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M|CORE participants in 2019 got an inperson visit to Ann Arbor.
The Michigan Chemistry Opportunities for Research and Education (M|CORE) may have happened virtually this year, but it was no less meaningful. M|CORE provides undergraduate students and recent graduates from underrepresented backgrounds in STEM the opportunity to learn about the graduate program at U-M and the process of applying to graduate school. Each fall, 10–14 participants are selected for a preview visit to Michigan Chemistry. They meet one-on-one with faculty and graduate students, tour research facilities, attend a session on preparing a strong graduate school application, and even attend a Michigan sports game.
A central aim of M|CORE is to make graduate school accessible to students who may not otherwise consider it. Professor Nils Walter, who helped develop M|CORE, hopes that the preview visit “lets students see themselves in the role, like the other graduate students who are their hosts.” He adds, “We also hope they realize that Michigan faculty are nice people and see that applying to a program like Michigan is less of a hurdle than they might have thought.”
According to current graduate students, M|CORE accomplished just that. “Prior to M|CORE, pursuing a Ph.D. was something that I didn’t really think was a worthwhile investment for myself," says Gloria Diaz. After learning about the ways that the department supported graduate students, though, she decided to apply and attend.
For Diaz, the most meaningful part of M|CORE was how it connected students from marginalized backgrounds. “It’s not necessarily that we need to feel validated by talking to one another but it’s good to see other people who look like you. I think it’s just such a gem that marginalized communities have.”
For Iliana Hampton, M|CORE revealed options that she would not have considered otherwise. “It was just so funny, I used to say you couldn’t pay me to go back to school and here I am, getting paid to go back to school!”
Two key experiences at M|CORE ultimately convinced Hampton to apply to graduate school. One was learning about the high employment rate for graduates. Another was a panel on graduate student life that featured students from diverse backgrounds and different stages in the chemistry program. “Had I not gotten the opportunity to go to M|CORE, I honestly probably wouldn’t even have been comfortable in my own skin because of the limited exposure I had to higher professionals or, you know, such a big university… I don’t think I would have been brave enough to just go to recruitment weekend,” says Hampton.
M|CORE students at Michigan
Each year, M|CORE students who apply and are accepted to the chemistry graduate program are invited back for recruitment weekend in the spring. Walter has seen M|CORE students welcome other visiting students from underrepresented backgrounds. “I have literally witnessed scenes where a student that was at the M|CORE weekend comes back and feels at home, and I hear them saying to others, not to me, ‘Oh, I am so sold on Michigan, I definitely want to come here,’” Walter says. On average, four M|CORE participants matriculate to the chemistry program in addition to one or two others who enter chemical biology, engineering, or other U-M graduate programs. “Students stay with us for five years, so that has a long-lasting effect,” Walter points out.
M|CORE’s impact on the chemistry department is borne out by the numbers. Alongside modifications to graduate admissions like eliminating the GRE requirement, M|CORE over its first seven years has contributed to an increase from 2 percent to 21 percent of incoming chemistry graduate students who self-identify as coming from underrepresented backgrounds.
Other Efforts at Inclusion
Yet efforts to make the chemistry program more diverse, equitable, and inclusive are far from finished. This important work involves an array of faculty, staff, and students across the department.
- Professor John Montgomery and Student Services Manager Hannah Hanosh have joined Walter to develop ways to support students from underrepresented groups once they commit to the graduate program at Michigan.
- The department diversity committee, which includes both faculty and student members, this year developed a core values statement, an online climate reporting form, and ways to improve departmental procedures for conflict resolution.
- The diversity committee is developing a formal process to connect undergraduates with research opportunities.
- commUNITY was established this year as a student-run organization that advocates for and supports students who identify as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) in the department.
Together with M|CORE, these efforts aim to make the Chemistry Department a place where students from underrepresented backgrounds can truly thrive.