Chemistry Becomes a Host Site for the ACS Bridge Program

IU was named an official site for the American Chemical Society’s Bridge Program (ACS-BP) in May 2020.  We join four other universities in sharing this honor.  The ACS-BP is a part of a concerted effort of the Inclusive Graduate Education Network (IGEN), the National Science Foundation, the ACS, and their corporate partners to increase the number of under-represented minorities earning Ph.D. degrees in the chemical sciences. IU Chemistry sought input from the highly successful American Physical Society Bridge Program in the IU Physics Department while developing our curriculum.  We leveraged their expertise with financial and administrative support from the College of Arts Sciences and the University Graduate School to design our program. The IUB Chemistry Department put into action its commitment to improving diversity in our graduate student cohort by joining the ACS-BP as a partner department in 2019.

Our approach to the Bridge Program focuses on creating deep mentoring relationships between our Bridge Fellows and both peer and faculty mentors.  The program is directed by Sara Skrabalak and Caroline Chick-Jarrold is the principle investigator.  The curriculum for each fellow is determined with input from the entire Bridge committee as well as the coordinators for each area of study.  Graduate student mentors help our fellows adapt to life in Bloomington, adjust to the depth and rigor of graduate classes, and help them determine the parameters for selecting which faculty research group they wish to join.  The College and Department provide two years of tuition and stipend at which point the Bridge Fellows can transition into the traditional Ph.D. program with support provided by a combination of teaching, research assistantships, or outside fellowships depending on their situations.  The Department’s goal is to matriculate two or three Bridge Fellows each year.  Bridge Fellowship candidates are recruited to participating departments through the IGEN portal.  We welcomed our first Bridge Fellow, Isel Rivera, with the Fall 2019 incoming graduate student class.


Meeting the 2020-2021 Bridge Fellows

Bridge Fellow Isel Rivera came to IU in August 2019.  She earned degree from the University of Southern Florida in Tampa, which is near where she grew up.  IU recruited her through the its connections with the ACS-BP and Isel was very impressed with our program and decided to study here.  She did undergraduate research in biomimetic inorganic chemical systems and now studies the effects of nanoparticle anisotropies on their toxicity with Professor Yan Yu.  She found our recently adopted rotation model for choosing research groups especially helpful.  She said the three week rotations provided an excellent opportunity to get a feel for what research looks like in a particular group as well as a chance to assess group dynamics.  She found her biggest challenge so far being the halt on her research brought about by our pandemic-related hibernation period this spring.  Regaining previous momentum has been slower than she would like as all labs are operating at reduced occupancies to maintain social distancing.

Bridge Fellow David Ferguson joined the program in August 2020.  He earned his B.S. degree from Taylor University in Upton, IN and hails from in The Bahamas.  He was attracted to IUB due the strength of its overall program and the caliber of its organic chemistry professors.  He is looking forward to joining Professor Kevin Brown’s Organic Chemistry research group.  David appreciates the commitment to diversity that the Bridge Program represents.  Furthermore, he points out that increased representation of those traditionally underrepresented leads to an improved educational experience for all students in the program.  The biggest challenge David has seen so far is working to complete the graduate coursework under the isolating conditions required to mitigate COVID-19 risks.  Study groups are smaller and less frequent than they were pre-COVID, which limits the chances for collaborative learning.

Bridge Fellow Gerrardo Castillo Valdes joined the program in August 2020.  Gerrardo earned his B.S. degree the University of North Texas in Denton, Texas near where he grew up.  Prior to undertaking graduate studies Gerrardo had taught high school chemistry for five years and worked in a research laboratory for two years.  Gerrardo was attracted to IUB Department of Chemistry because of its historically strong presence in analytical chemistry.  He is currently undertaking rotations through the Pohl and Jacobson laboratories before making his group selection.  Gerrardo indicated the biggest challenge so far is adjusting to being a student again after a seven-year gap.  Gerrardo appreciated the fact that Bridge Fellows share their experiences with the other traditional graduate students.  This allows the Bridge Fellows to make connections with their cohort and integrate themselves into the program more quickly.