Explore. Excite. Inspire.
These are the main goals of the University of Maryland, Baltimore’s (UMB) CURE Scholars Program, an initiative launched in 2015 to help West Baltimore students pursue and excel in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education with an eye on exploring career opportunities in the research, STEM, and health care fields.
UMB CURE was honored in the “Inspire” domain in August, winning a 2020 Inspiring Programs in STEM Award from INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine, the largest and oldest diversity and inclusion publication in higher education. The award recognizes colleges and universities that encourage and assist students from under-represented groups to enter the STEM fields. UMB and 49 other recipients were featured in the magazine’s September issue.
“It’s truly an honor to be recognized as an inspiring STEM program,” said UMB CURE executive director Gia Grier McGinnis, DrPH, MS. “It’s a reflection of UMB’s commitment to producing the next generation of health care and STEM leaders through engaging year-round programming, high-quality mentoring, and strong social support services.”
UMB President Bruce E. Jarrell, MD, FACS, said the award is well-deserved. “The UMB professionals who run the program, mentors, community partners, and scholars’ families all work together to create meaningful opportunities, inspire, and engage what I hope will be the next generation of health and science leaders,” he said. “The scholars inspire the UMB community in return as we see what amazing results come from being given the opportunity to shine.”
UMB CURE is the first National Cancer Institute (NCI) Continuing Umbrella of Research Experiences (CURE) pipeline program to offer year-round mentorship, STEM programming, tutoring, and hands-on learning opportunities to middle school students. The program identifies sixth-graders with an interest in science from three West Baltimore schools, then supports them through middle school, high school, and beyond.
CURE Scholars are selected based on their commitment to a long-term program and not on academic performance measures. Through rich scientific opportunities, they gain presentation experience, academic growth, self-confidence, and the motivation necessary to succeed.
Just a few months after learning of the recognition, CURE welcomed a sixth cohort of scholars to the program in October with its annual White Coat Ceremony.
Rather than having the 26 new sixth-graders all together to receive their coats with a traditional ceremony, the scholars connected with one another virtually. When it came time to hand out the white coats, the new scholars had recorded their own videos that showed their name and school while a friend or family member officially put the coat on them.
This year’s White Coat Ceremony also marked the program’s fifth anniversary.
“As CURE celebrates its fifth anniversary, we are engaging with the scholars in an ever-changing world,” Grier McGinnis said. “We see this ceremony as a turning point in the program where we will build upon the tremendous work of years before and look ahead to how we have to evolve to navigate the program’s future growth and societal changes happening around it.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, CURE’s after-school and Saturday programming has been converted to a virtual curriculum. The scholars complete virtual learning modules and connect with their teachers and mentors using video conferencing software like Zoom and Google Classrooms. Because of this “new normal,” CURE leadership thought the best way to safely celebrate this new cohort was with a virtual ceremony emceed by Jarrell.
The strength of the CURE Program shined through during the ceremony with remarks from Ayishat Yussuf, a junior at City College high school and a CURE Scholar in Cohort 1. She told the new scholars that she aspires to be a pediatrician, a Black activist, and an author, and UMB CURE has helped her to become passionate about these goals and kept her motivated to achieve them.
“The UMB CURE Program has given me research opportunities, it has helped me with presentations, and it has helped me connect with professionals who are in the STEM field,” Ayishat said. “My advice is to just be yourself and stay strong and positive. Always understand that we are all here for you, and that you have mentors right beside you who are willing to help you become the person you are now and in the future.”
The program leaders were excited to introduce the next step of the pipeline, Career Navigators, which officially began this semester.
The Career Navigators component of the pipeline is partially funded by the Jack and Jill of America Foundation and the Edward St. John Foundation and is geared specifically toward 11th- and 12th-grade students. Career Navigators will support the scholars in submitting college applications, navigating financial aid forms, acquiring internships and apprenticeships, and connecting with STEM professionals working in their area of interest. “I want the scholars to know that we are going to stick with you through this whole program,” Jarrell concluded. “We’re going to cheer for you and support you the whole way.”