In an effort to create greater student diversity in the sciences at Yale, the University has looked abroad for inspiration.
Last semester, the University launched the Yale Ciencia Initiative, a new effort that provides scientific access and research opportunities for minority groups historically underrepresented in the field. The initiative — which is housed in the Yale Center for Teaching and Learning — is modeled after Ciencia Puerto Rico, a non-profit network created by Yale cell biology professor Daniel Colón-Ramos that aims to promote research and foster scientific collaborations in the Puerto Rican community. Unlike other diversity outreach programs like the Science, Technology and Research Scholars that focus on Yale undergraduates exclusively, the Ciencia Initiative encourages students both at Yale and around the world to pursue the sciences.
Though the initiative mainly targets students of Hispanic backgrounds or from Spanish-speaking countries, administrators and students interviewed said the new program fits into a larger University effort to increase diversity on campus, and more broadly in academia.
“There is no single approach to developing diversity,” Jim Slattery, associate provost for science and technology, wrote in an email. “The Yale Ciencia Initiative is one such effort at Yale that will use methods developed by Ciencia Puerto Rico to reach out to a broad cross-section of cultures.”
Ciencia Puerto Rico Executive Director Giovanna Guerrero-Medina said the Yale partnership will provide students and researchers with fellowship opportunities on campus and undergraduate research activities. It will also create various outreach programs to New Haven, she added.
Colón-Ramos said though the new initiative is more ambitious than his initial project, Ciencia at Yale has more potential because it will expand to engage Latin American communities beyond those in Puerto Rico. Funding for the program will be its biggest barrier for success, which Colón-Ramos said is often difficult to secure for initiatives that support minorities. As a result, administrators involv ed in the program are applying for grants, Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning Jennifer Frederick said. The Center for Teaching and Learning also provides the Ciencia Initiative with the opportunity to quantitatively assess the current impact of its programs in order to make adjustments, Frederick said.
Simon Hernandez, a postgraduate associate at the Yale Center for Scientific Teaching, recently collaborated with the Ciencia Initiative and taught an antibiotic screening course to students in Puerto Rico last fall.
“When I went to Puerto Rico, I met a lot of motivated students,” Hernandez said. “[We] just need to give those talented students an opportunity. We can’t afford to be losing scientists and losing talent.”
Guerrero-Medina said that one specific goal of the Ciencia Initiative is to encourage the 2,300 undergraduates across the world that Ciencia serves to use Yale resources and programs.
Cesar Garcia ’17, a STARS participant, said that since he grew up in a small town, there were no professional research programs besides the general science curriculum taught at his school. There need to be programs directed at a broader swath of Latinos because other students with even fewer resources may not have had the foresight or exposure to pursue a STEM-related field, he added.
“The Ciencia Initiative provides a framework where students are directly linked to the right resources immediately,” Garcia said. “[The initiative] creates a clear and simple road to follow if they choose to pursue a STEM field.”
However, some students interviewed within STEM fields remained uninformed about the creation of the new initiative.
Benjamin Bartolome ’16, a chemical engineering major of Puerto Rican descent, said he was familiar with the existence of Ciencia Puerto Rico, but was not aware of the Yale Ciencia Initiative.
Still, he said the launch of Yale Ciencia will be a major step as the University looks to engage with the Latin American world through scientific research.
Ciencia Puerto Rico has over 7,000 scientists, students and educators in its network.