After spending almost a year working with Yale faculty in the Combined Program in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences, the first class of the Yale Post-baccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP) has begun to hear back from the graduate schools to which they applied.

Launched this academic year, the PREP initiative aims to prepare college graduates from underrepresented minority groups for Ph.D. programs in the biomedical sciences. It is part of a nationwide effort to increase diversity in the sciences — 31 U.S. universities and institutions have National Institutes of Health-funded PREP initiatives. According to Assistant Dean of the Graduate School Carl Hashimoto, a similar post-baccalaureate program existed in the early 2000s at Yale, but the program ended after the former director left.

In recent years, the program has received renewed interest. The $1.3 million NIH grant — which the administration received only after applying twice — will fund the program for four years, starting in the 2014–15 academic year. Coming from a variety of backgrounds with a diverse range of research interests, all of the current PREP students interviewed said the program has helped them feel more adequately prepared for graduate school. Programs like PREP, they said, are crucial to increasing diversity in the sciences.

“As a woman of color, people that look like me don’t always have these opportunities,” PREP student Shannon Hughley GRD ’15 said. “I have been so fortunate to have mentors that look like me, but other people don’t get to see that. Sometimes you walk into a room and you’re the only person there who is a woman or a person of color.”

Hughley graduated from Spelman College last year and decided to apply to PREP after she was rejected from several schools. Having worked in the same lab as many first-year graduate students, Hughley said she now has a better idea of what graduate school will be like.

While Hughley said the students and directors of PREP meet together roughly once a month, she suggested directors could improve the program by holding meetings more frequently.

From a small town in Texas with a population of 1,000, Ryan Reyes GRD ’15 said doctors were the only science role models he saw growing up — he had no opportunities to be exposed to people working in other science disciplines. He attended college at a small school in Arkansas, primarily to play baseball and run cross-country. He said that three years ago, he would not have been able to imagine where he is today — researching lung cancer and recently accepted to the M.D./Ph.D program at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio.

Korie Bush GRD ’15, who graduated from Cornell, said he applied to the program to figure out if he wanted to attend graduate school and make himself a better applicant. Bush said he would like to see more structure in the program. Whenever Bush sought help from the directors, they were very receptive to his problems, he said. But he fears other students who do not have experience asking for help will end up going without it.

According to Bush, though the world of academia is making a push toward diversity, he expects his post-academic life in industry to be more homogeneous.

“I highly doubt they have programs like this in industry,” he said.

While the first-year participants receive their acceptances, Hashimoto and the other program directors have begun reviewing the newest set of PREP applicants.

Hashimoto said they have received close to 50 applicants for only seven spots. Last year, the directors had little time to advertise the program because the NIH only told them at the last minute that they would be receiving funding. Instead, they had to recruit students by word of mouth and thus only found five qualified participants.

While Wilhemina Koomson GRD ’15 said she wishes the program could be expanded to more students, Minority Affairs Director for the Combined Program Anton Bennett said the directors may want to keep the program small in order to foster intimacy within the program and be able to serve all of the students’ needs.

The BBS program has approximately 350 faculty members.