The Microbiology & Cell Science Department at the University of Florida (UF) and Miami Dade College – North Campus (MDC) propose a project with two long-term goals: 1.) to increase the number of students receiving their Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree in life sciences and 2.) to increase the diversity of individuals receiving their B.S. in life sciences. To accomplish these goals, the Microbiology & Cell Science (MCS) Department and MDC have developed a bridge program that begins with a student receiving their Associates in Arts degree from MDC and seamlessly progressing to their B.S. degree as a transfer student to UF. As the largest minority-serving institution in the country and located in an urban environment, MDC has a substantial population of students from backgrounds that are underrepresented in the STEM fields. Although many MDC 2-yr students may wish to pursue a 4-year degree from the state’s major research university, UF, they often choose not to do so because of financial, cultural, or geographical reasons. The MDC to UF bridge program was designed to overcome as many barriers as possible to broaden participation in STEM. Geographically, Miami is 335 miles from Gainesville (location of UF). There is a vast cultural distance as well: Miami is a large, urban area that is 62% Hispanic, whereas Gainesville is in a rural area that is 6% Hispanic (U.S. Census Bureau). The primary advantage and unique feature of this program is that the students earn a 4-year degree in Microbiology & Cell Science from UF without relocating from Miami. The majority of coursework is web-based through UF’s course management system and taught by UF faculty who teach the same courses in Gainesville. Two required laboratory courses are taken at MDC facilities. The MCS Distance Education Bachelor of Science program officially began in Fall 2011 with the enrollment of its first cohort of transfer students. The UF- MDC partnership represents the cornerstone of the Microbiology & Cell Science Department’s Distance Education program as the program expands statewide by developing partnerships with other 2-yr institutions over the next three years.

The specific objectives of this NSF STEP project is to implement several activities to increase recruitment and retention in the MDC – UF Microbiology bridge program while promoting diversity and thereby increase the number and diversity of students who earn a B.S. degree in the biological sciences. Although the new MCS Distance Education B.S. program is an innovative approach to increase STEM graduates, the STEP project activities include best practices to improve minority retention in STEM fields such as peer to peer tutoring and undergraduate research. The specific strategies to increase participation and enhance diversity are: 1) Peer to peer tutoring; 2) Undergraduate research; 3) Career mentoring, and 4) Undergraduate scholarships. The impact and effectiveness of all activities will be evaluated. Activities with a demonstrated impact on retention and success will become a permanent feature of the Distance Education program.
Intellectual Merit. This project will increase the number of individuals attaining their BS degree in a STEM field, thereby expanding STEM talent in the workforce. Participants in the STEP project will conduct research projects, and their results will advance scientific knowledge in the life sciences. This project tests an innovative approach to developing a bridge degree program that brings a research university curriculum to the student in their community.
Broader Impacts. This project is poised to increase the diversity of the life sciences. MDC – NC has a student population that is 90% underrepresented in STEM; these demographics are expected to be reflected in the participants of this program. This program is a model of how universities can increase diversity in their programs by designing programs that meet the students where they are. This project has a significant potential to prepare underrepresented individuals for STEM careers whom otherwise may not have that opportunity.