Bridges to Discovery

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Bryanna Moppins is a recent alumna of the Peach State Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation program, which recruits and supports minority students pursuing degrees in STEM fields.

This summer the University of Georgia is welcoming its first cohort of graduate students who will be advancing the frontiers of knowledge through the National Science Foundation’s Bridges to the Doctorate program.

Bridges to the Doctorate builds on the university’s longstanding and highly successful Peach State Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation program, which is administered by our Office of Institutional Diversity and has helped triple minority undergraduate enrollment in STEM fields at UGA since it was launched a decade ago. An exemplary collaboration spearheaded by Associate Provost for Institutional Diversity Michelle Garfield Cook and Graduate School Dean Suzanne Barbour was instrumental in enabling UGA to secure the new, $1-million Bridges to the Doctorate grant.

Through Bridges to the Doctorate, 12 LSAMP alumni will receive two years of support for work toward a doctoral degree, with the remaining support coming from the department in which they study. The Bridges to the Doctorate program also offers peer and faculty mentoring, professional development, social support and outreach opportunities that help prepare students for leadership roles in fields that are critical to the future of our state and nation.

UGA's Bridges to the Doctorate program comes at a time when enrollment in STEM fields at the university is increasing dramatically. Twenty-one percent of all undergraduate degrees UGA awarded last year were in STEM fields, which is an increase of 5 percentage points over the past five years. Thirty-two percent of all Ph.D. students enrolled at UGA are in STEM disciplines, which also reflects an increase of 5 percentage points over the past five years.

The Bridges to the Doctorate program builds on an impressive array of programming that has made UGA one of the nation’s leading producers of minority graduate degree holders. In 2016, for example, the University received funding through the NSF INCLUDES program that will enable us to broaden the pipeline of students interested in pursuing graduate education in STEM by partnering with three historically black universities in Georgia—Fort Valley State University, Clark Atlanta University and Savannah State University—as well as Florida International University, which is categorized as a Hispanic-serving institution.

A powerful economic case can be made for investments in STEM education. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the average wage for STEM occupations is nearly double the average for non-STEM fields, and more than 99 percent of STEM employment is in occupations that typically require some type of postsecondary education. Employment in STEM fields continues to grow across the nation and here in Georgia, where key industries include advanced manufacturing, food processing and the life sciences.

Innovation and discovery have broader impacts, as well. Our graduate students work alongside our faculty to find solutions to challenges in fields ranging from human health to cybersecurity and feeding a growing global population. Our Bridges to the Doctorate students are joining an institution with an impressive research enterprise, and I have no doubt that their contributions will further advance our nation’s role as a global leader in research and development.