When freshman Maria Ramirez decided she wanted to study industrial engineering, she knew it would mean attending one of the large universities that offered the program.
Coming from Portland’s Valley Catholic High School — a school of only 375 students — Ramirez says she was intimidated by the thought of trying to find a community at a large university.
While Oregon State University’s student body was not the largest one of the schools Ramirez applied to, OSU’s 25,000 students meant the school was still more than 60 times larger than Ramirez’s close-knit high school.
To ease her transition to OSU, Ramirez enrolled in the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation Summer Scholars program, a 10-day bridge program she found out about through mail she received from OSU.
The idea behind the program is to give minority students majoring in science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs time to get used to the university, learn about their academic resources and meet new people — all in the couple of weeks before fall term begins.
“I was afraid that with so many students, nothing would get done,” Ramirez says. “But getting to know people here and making those bonds has really helped. We can help each other.”
Ramirez was one of 36 students who participated in one of OSU’s two LSAMP Summer Scholars bridge programs this year. One, funded by Intel Corporation, is in its second year of hosting minorities majoring in engineering. The second, for those majoring in the other sciences, was held for the first time this year — it’s funded by a five-year grant awarded by the national LSAMP organization, which supports resources for ethnic minorities in STEM programs. The grant also funds a program coordinator position and supplies for the program, as well as funds for LSAMP students to perform undergraduate research and travel to conferences.
This year’s Summer Scholars students attended classes, performed labs and heard presentations on resources and opportunities at OSU geared to generate interest in the material they will study in their majors and the programs that can help them succeed.
Freshman Nickolos Dennis, a zoology major, says the information presented on studying abroad and internships left him excited to take advantage of the opportunity to study wildlife through an international internship.
“I really like how this has made it convenient for us to have so many connections to internships and other opportunities to get ahead in school,” Dennis says. “I think the fact that we were able to get so much inside information makes those opportunities seem so in reach.”
In addition to academic activities, the students also completed team-building exercises together on the OSU ropes course, performed outdoor community service and went on a rafting trip. To give students an idea of what they might do as working professionals in their fields, the program included a tour of the Intel campus in Portland for the engineering students and a visit to Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport for the science group.
“The main goal is to increase the number of students graduating in STEM programs,” says Marleigh Perez, OSU’s LSAMP program coordinator. “I think the main way the program does that is really getting these students connected to campus and each other from the beginning. I think that helps them feel like they belong here and like they have a community in STEM.”
A community is exactly what sophomore Marlon Mejia says he found through last year’s Summer Scholars program. Mejia came to OSU to study civil engineering and entered the LSAMP program after being encouraged by his high school counselor. The experience, Mejia says, helped him solidify his interest in civil engineering, develop confidence about attending classes and communicating with professors and build lasting friendships.
“They’re my closest friends,” Mejia says of the students he met during Summer Scholars. “I talk to them all the time. We do study tables, we take the same classes and most of them lived in my hall. The bridge program really helps establish a sense of who your friends are before school starts and makes college a positive environment.”
Inspired by his own experience with Summer Scholars, Mejia returned to the program this year as a peer leader and worked with students during activities, sharing information about classes, resources and feeling comfortable on campus.
“I like the bridge program a lot. I like what it did for me and I think I can give back to it,” Mejia says. “I see it as an opportunity to help others and make them into young leaders.”
Leadership is especially emphasized after the bridge program’s completion, when Summer Scholars students lead other freshmen in activities during CONNECT week.
Following the bridge program, students are encouraged to not only stay in touch with their fellow LSAMP freshmen but with their peer leaders and LSAMP faculty. Students participate in regular program events, including résumé workshops, academic coaching, free breakfasts and presentations from industry representatives.
“Most of them I see weekly, if not daily,” Perez says of students who have been part of the LSAMP program. “We’ve been able to meet some really great students that I think otherwise may have just flown under the radar.”
For Ramirez, those efforts have already been successful. In her largest class of the term, Ramirez says she counters the size of the class by sitting in front and studying with friends.
“I’m feeling much better,” Ramirez says. “The class is in a huge auditorium, but when you’re in the front it’s not bad at all, and I feel like I know people already, which has really helped.”
-Story by Kayla Harr