Meredith College Awarded Grant to Address Disparities in STEM

Meredith College has received a grant from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund (BWF) to support PERSIST (Pipeline Enhancement to Retain Students via Inclusive STEM Training), a program aiming to address the disparities in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers of women and individuals from underrepresented backgrounds.

“I think students have this perception that ‘I can do science’ or ‘I can’t do science,’ and we want everyone to know that they can do science,” said Julie Kolb, project director and member of the mathematics and computer science department.

PERSIST will provide the opportunity for rising 10th – 12th-grade female students to gain three college credits and further their interest in STEM. The program will take place during the summer of 2023 and 2024 and let students participate in a two-week simulated FDA drug development process. During these two weeks, the students will focus on two specific phases of the development process; Drug Discovery and Clinical Research.

The program will also include six in-person weekend workshops covering bioscience career exploration led by industry experts beginning in December 2022 and going into May 2023. The workshops will begin again the following year, beginning in December 2023 and going until May 2024. 

In addition to Kolb, the team consists of Jason Andrus, Karthik Aghoram, and Carolina Perez-Heydrich from the biological sciences department.

The team behind PERSIST said their goal is to inspire students to pursue an education in STEM, complete their STEM degrees, and join the STEM workforce.

“One of the things we’re hoping to do with this grant is to make everyone who is seeing themselves go into STEM feel like they belong in STEM,” said Jason Andrus, professor of biological sciences and department head of biology. 

Meredith was one of 14 organizations, and only one of six schools to be selected for funding by BWF. The others include Duke University, Elon University, North Carolina State University, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, and Wake Forest University.

The Meredith team said what made PERSIST unique was the choice to focus on using the drug development process for high school participants. 

“Just location-wise, we are ideally situated with NC State, UNC, and Chapel Hill. We have a lot of professionals and excellent resources that we can draw on, and hopefully, a diverse group of people that can relate to and inform these young people,” said Kolb.

The PERSIST team also partnered with ChickTech and the North Carolina Biomedical Research Association, who proved to be essential resources in helping the program stand out.

“As STEM faculty at a women’s college, we are highly motivated to address these disparities by supporting female high school students in developing an interest in STEM fields and a sense of belonging in the world of STEM,” said Carolina Perez-Heydrich, assistant professor of biological sciences and director of undergraduate research.

Learn more about the School of Natural and Mathematical Sciences

Melyssa Allen

News Director
316 Johnson Hall
(919) 760-8087
Fax: (919) 760-8330