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Wednesday, May 18, 2022

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A group of students participate in a science assignment at SDSU.
 


Making a MARC: Empowering Underrepresented Scientists

SDSU’s Maximizing Access to Research Careers program has helped 173 students find success as nascent researchers.
By Chris Leap, Sarah White and Kellie Woodhouse
 

Confidence. Empowerment. Motivation.
 
There are just a few of the feelings undergraduate participants of San Diego State University’s Maximizing Access to Research Careers (MARC) program report when considering its impact on their scientific careers.

MARC “has not only given me the confidence to pursue a doctoral degree, but has shown me how to achieve it,” Daniel Delgado wrote in a 2017 letter of support. Delgado, who graduated from SDSU in 2018, is pursuing his doctorate in environmental engineering. 

For 33 years, MARC has encouraged underrepresented students majoring in science and engineering fields to participate in research while on campus. 

The National Institutes of Health-funded program funds partial tuition, student participation in faculty labs and travel to scientific conferences. MARC also pairs students with faculty mentors who encourage their growth and provides workshops for everything from applying to graduate school to effectively communicating research. 
 
MARC aims to open pathways for minoritized students –  students who are low-income, from an underrepresented minority population, first-generation college students, veterans, underrepresented in their field (such as females in engineering) or have a disability – to pursue doctoral education.

Since its beginning in 1989, 173 students have participated.
 
“When MARC found me, I was a very naïve college student,” Silvia Bigatti, a MARC graduate and current university professor, wrote in a 2017 letter of support submitted as part of an SDSU request for renewed funding from NIH.

“I was a recent Latino immigrant, non-traditional student, mother of two, and the first in my family to attend college in the U.S. …  I am quite sure that without the encouragement I received through MARC, I would not have pursued graduate education and then a research career,” said Bigatti. “MARC not only gave me the tools to succeed, but also convinced me that I could.”

Throughout the years, MARC has benefited from the efforts of dedicated faculty and staff: Cathie Atkins, former College of Sciences associate dean, has led the program since its inception. And Thelma Chavez, who has worked as MARC’s program coordinator for nearly 27 years. 

During that time, she’s seen the impact the program has on students, many of whom go on to careers as successful researchers, faculty, doctors and scientists who work in medical and biotech industries. Since 1997, 20 MARC participants have received prestigious and competitive National Science Fellowships to further their research studies through doctoral education.

“The most rewarding aspect of working with students has been the opportunity to get to know them and assist them in reaching their goals here at SDSU and beyond,” Chavez said. 

“Not only during the years while they are in the MARC program, but well beyond,” she continued. “I still keep in contact with MARC scholars that participated in the ’90s. I can reach out to them anytime and ask for support for current scholars. MARC is a family, not just a program.”