The CURE students were selected from the UCSD’s undergraduates, a cohort with highly documented academic and professional promise. The 93% persistence in the sciences after 1 year for CURE science majors was comparable to UCSD’s 94% for all science majors. This is notable because CURE students generally come from socioeconomically challenged backgrounds and less affluent high schools than their majority peers, putting them at a distinct disadvantage to succeed. Transferring from a community college creates additional challenges to success. An equally good outcome was found for persistence in the sciences through graduation (98% versus 72%). While there are no comparable graduation and post-baccalaureate training matriculation data available for UCSD students in general, the CURE students’ graduation and matriculation into graduate school rates were very high. The 10-year study of Matsui et al. [18
] of UC Berkeley’s Biology Scholar’s Program (BSP) showed a similar positive program impact for BSP compared to non-BSP control groups.
Several factors beyond the content of the training program appeared to contribute to the CURE program’s success. First, the constant monitoring of CURE students’ progress enabled the program leaders to identify quickly students who were not staying on track academically and with sufficient time to intervene with counseling and referrals for tutoring. A second was helping to relieve students’ financial pressures; a third was to provide work where they gained laboratory experiences that enhanced their academic performance and graduate school competitiveness. Fourth was the provision of strong science role models and mentors, and fifth was the program leaders’ and faculty mentors’ championing activities, including alerting students to additional enrichment opportunities, including them as peers on manuscripts and abstracts/presentations and personally endorsing their efforts to succeed with supportive letters and other communications.
In contrast, program attrition occurred because students dropped out of college entirely as a result of socio-demographic impediments to success, circumstances that this program was not designed to address. This finding suggests that future incoming students should have a one-on-one session with a program leader early in the training program to identify these types of impediments to success, so that at-risk students can be offered additional University support services.
While the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities [10
] and the National Research Council [11
] have urged universities to conduct evaluations of NIH-funded intervention programs to expand the pipeline of students from underrepresented communities, measuring the true impact of such programs is wrought with challenges. For example, the current study’s sample was small, the students were all drawn from one university, and the study had no control group with which comparisons could be made. The limited funding for such programs hampers rigorous scientific evaluation. This is further complicated by the ethical dilemma of how to construct a true control group when there are alternate enrichment opportunities for control group participants.
Mentoring has been shown to be one of the most powerful tools in motivating UR students to stay in science, graduate from college, matriculate into graduate school, and pursue academic careers [19
]. Mentoring includes academic and career advising, dissemination of information on available resources, assistance in navigating the academic system, promotion of students’ self-efficacy [22
], and guidance in coping with their socio-demographic challenges to success. The experiences gained from UCSD’s CURE program lend support to the conclusion that mentoring is at the heart of successful programs that seek to advance UR students’ academic and professional achievements.