Arkansas State University is participating in a research program called “Bridging the Divide,” which aims to increase the number of Ph.D graduates in the so-called “STEM” fields, especially among minority students.

STEM stands for “Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics” and are four areas where academics and job analysts contend America must make gains to keep up with other countries and advancing technology.

“Bridging the Divide” is funded in part by a grant designed to boost doctoral degree program enrollment in STEM disciplines, by providing scholarships to “bridge the divide” between undergraduate and graduate programs.

Dr. Malathi Srivatsan, director of the summer bridge program, is assistant director of ASU’s Arkansas Biosciences Institute (ABI) and is a professor of neurobiology at the university. She said a five-year, $750,000 grant from the National Science Foundation will give minority students, veterans and students with disabilities among others an opportunity to expand their education.

Srivatsan will be working with officials at Philander Smith College in Little Rock and the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff on the program, which begins this year and will continue through 2019.

Under the program, Philander Smith and UAPB students who receive their bachelor’s degrees there can then go on to study at ABI.

The Arkansas Biosciences Institute is an agricultural and medical research consortium “dedicated to improving the health of Arkansans,” according to its website. Located on the ASU campus, it emerged during a statewide planning process for use of the state’s share of the 1998 nationwide tobacco settlement. Voter approval of the initiative led to its creation.

“We will provide 10 weeks, a stipend, room and board, a faculty advisor and professional development,” Srivatsan said of the “Bridging the Divide” program.

The program is similar to one created by Fisk University and Vanderbilt University in Nashville. The Fisk/Vanderbilt partnership has been successful, Srivatsan said.

“At Vanderbilt, they have produced six Ph.D’s in astrophysics who are African-American. It is not a lack of capability, but a lack of exposure,” Srivatsan said.

Srivatsan, who is also the director for the molecular biosciences Ph.D. program at ASU, said she had a chance to study in the program as a research fellow in Washington, D.C.

“When I returned to ASU, I wanted to start a similar program,” Srivatsan said.

The program will have seven students this year, with the students going through professional development and presenting their research later this month.

“I am really happy with the quality of students (in the program),” Srivatsan said.

The students will also get an opportunity to do lab work, receive training and tuition support to get the doctoral degree, Srivatsan said.

For an overview of the bridge summer interns and the research projects they are working on, click here.

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