BTN LiveBIG: Indiana Summer Scholars find success in STEM

BTN LiveBIG: Indiana Summer Scholars find success in STEM

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When Kristen Lewis arrived in Bloomington, Ind., several summers ago, she was expecting to learn about scientific principles. Little did she know she’d learn a lot more than that.

Lewis, who was working on her masters degree in chemical computation at Jackson State University in Jackson, Miss., came to the Indiana University campus to participate in the Summer Scholars Institute. Summer Scholars was established as a partnership between IU and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to help underrepresented groups find career paths in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields.

The program pairs up promising STEM scholars from across the country with mentors at IU, who explain both the technical aspects of work in these disciplines, and the rigor, work ethic and other qualities that lead to professional success.

Lewis recalled having the following sorts of exchanges with her mentor during her time with Summer Scholars.

“Every day, he would come and ask me, ‘So, Kristen, what are you doing today?’

“I was like, ‘I’m running calculations.’

“‘But what are you doing right now?’

“‘I’m waiting for the calculations.’

“‘We don’t wait. You need to be writing.’

“I said, ‘What am I supposed to be writing?’

“‘You can write your results, you can start learning how to put your graphs together. You need to be doing something.’

“‘Ha! OK, OK…’

“Mentally, it’s kind of fatiguing to have to kind of go from where you have a very relaxed environment to this very rigorous, ‘get things done, get things done’ [environment],” she continued. “I had to get outside of my shy box and talk to the post-docs so they could help me figure out how to use these methods.”

However, as Lewis — now Dr. Lewis, professor in the chemistry and biochemistry department at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania — can attest, those lessons paid off for her. And they can benefit other students who participate in the Summer Scholars program too.

“I hope that the students take it as ‘growing pains,’” she said. “It helps to stretch them out of their comfort zone and makes them better researchers. They might not like it right now, but at the end they’ll really, really value the experience.”

By Brian Summerfield

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