The COMPASS Scholars Program – Developing Today’s Untapped Talent into Tomorrow’s STEM Cell Researchers

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The COMPASS Scholars Program – Developing Today’s Untapped Talent into Tomorrow’s STEM Cell Researchers

Statement of Benefit to California:
As a public land grant institution, mandated to serve all segments of California’s diverse population, the STEM community at this University has not seen equitable outcomes for its majors from the diversity of backgrounds represented among its undergraduates. Here and elsewhere, STEM culture relies heavily on the quantitative assessment of talent (e.g., GPA, standardized test rankings) and the value of competition and curve grading to sort talent. These practices are grounded in the ideology of an objective meritocracy in which individuals ‘deserve what they get and get what they deserve.’ These practices reinforce the myth of meritocracy and have focused our attention on the ‘failing student’ rather than on the institutional practices that have failed them. We must rethink how we think about STEM ‘talent’ and how we assess who is ‘qualified’ to succeed in and contribute to science. With limited fiscal resources, we should ask what is STEM ‘talent’ and how should we invest in it? As part of our due diligence, we need to identify and address the structural failings of our institutions rather than rationalizing success in STEM as the natural outcome of individual differences in skill, talent, or perceived work ethic. 30 years of evidence from the STEM equity program leading this project suggests that so called less qualified students can succeed in STEM courses at this institution if provided a proper academic environment. The proposed COMPASS Scholars Program tests if this holds true at ‘the bench’ as well. Continuing STEM practices that undervalue and fail to develop untapped talent have clear implications for our failure to meet California’s STEM workforce needs. Additionally, as advances are made in stem cell research and its application to precision medicine, so too does the potential of widening disparities in health care. The investment of CIRM funds in the COMPASS Research Training Initiative has the potential to benefit California not only by increasing the number of qualified stem cell researchers, but by giving voice to the diversity of backgrounds, and cultural and community perspectives these scientists represent to address the health care challenges of our diverse state. (2213/3000 characters)