This story is a highlight from our 2020 Annual Report.

Fifteen bright interns have moved closer to fulfilling science careers and more than 40 mentors and allies have sharpened their skills since 2019, thanks to an innovative program led by Mote Marine Laboratory that works to open doors into marine science for underrepresented minority students.

The Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP): Marine Science Laboratory Alliance Center of Excellence (MarSci-LACE) succeeded in its first year—engaging a stellar group of students and mentors while collecting and analyzing data that will help reduce barriers between underrepresented minority communities and marine science disciplines that need their insights.

MarSci-LACE was founded in 2019 through a three-year National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to Mote, the only non-academic institution to receive one of seven LSAMP Center of Excellence awards in the U.S. It is co-funded by the NSF Inclusion across the Nation of Communities of Learners of Underrepresented Discoverers in Engineering and Science (NSF INCLUDES) initiative. Partners include The College of the Florida Keys (CFK), State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota (SCF), Smithsonian Marine Science Station, and Perry Institute for Marine Science (PIMS).

Note: This section includes some updates from early 2021 (after Mote’s current annual report period), to highlight the incredible outcomes of MarSci-LACE efforts undertaken in 20192020.

  • These students belong in science

    Many scientific fields—particularly marine science disciplines that require bachelor’s degrees—have low diversity along racial, ethnic, gender and cultural lines, so they’re missing out on worthwhile perspectives. While 31% of the U.S. population comprises underrepresented minorities, they only receive 20% of degrees in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) disciplines and 12% in marine STEM. In turn, many minority scientists struggle to feel a sense of belonging in the culture of science, which offers few role models of similar backgrounds.

    To address these challenges, the MarSci-LACE team assembled a curriculum and mentor-education program designed to help the incoming interns excel in experiential science based on Mote’s model of Research Experiences for Undergraduates. The first MarSci-LACE internship curriculum was informed by peer-reviewed literature, the experiences of Mote staff, and interviews with 47 underrepresented minority scientists. Literature and discussions emphasized that a strong science identity—seeing yourself as a “science person”—is critical for retaining students in STEM fields.

    Literature and discussions emphasized that a strong science identity—seeing yourself as a “science person”—is critical for retaining students in STEM fields.

    The interns—CFK and SCF undergraduates, most working on associate’s degrees in science or technology fields—were surveyed on this very topic, as part of a multi-point data-collection effort designed to benefit them and future students and mentors.

    Before and after their internships, a subset of the students were asked to select from a series of overlapping circles labeled “me”  and “science person.” Before the internships, they generally selected circles with slight overlaps. After their internships, the students chose circles with some of the biggest possible overlaps. Through MarSci-LACE, the students strengthened their identities as “science people.” Just as exciting, 100% of interns reported a positive, comfortable and transformative experience, with an increased sense of belonging and confidence in doing science.

    The MarSci-LACE staff are now investigating what went well or needs improvement and how other institutions can replicate this year’s success. First of all, the interns themselves were driven, intelligent and ready to dive right in. They participated in an Intern Alliance to discuss challenges and build a community of allies, joined professional development sessions—for example, with underrepresented minority grad students—and above all, they did amazing science! Just a few examples:

    • Giandria Green studied phytoplankton, the microscopic marine algae that drive many essential processes in the ocean and also include toxin-producing species such as the Florida red tide algae, Karenia brevis. She had never participated in an internship before and felt that her first months of being at Mote were difficult, but with the support of her mentor and other lab members, she became comfortable in this space. By the end of her summer 2020 internship, she asked to extend it for another semester and Mote staff members were grateful to support her stay in MarSci-LACE through fall 2020. In her second semester, her interest in marine science blossomed. She switched her major from Computer Science to Biotechnology with a special interest in the cell culture process she learned at Mote. As a result of her internship, Green was hired by Mote’s Phytoplankton Ecology Program! She provides an exciting example of what students can achieve when they feel a sense of belonging in marine science.
    • Berenice Balderass studied necropsy (animal autopsy) reports to compare sea turtle deaths related to human interaction to deaths with natural causes, investigating if  turtles affected by human interaction were in poorer health. Excitingly, she presented at a conference held by the LSAMP Midwest Center of Excellence.
    • Jean Ozit worked to monitor Florida red tide and test strategies to mitigate it using chemical compounds bound to concrete.

Mentoring the mentors

  • Mentor training has been a powerful facet of MarSci-LACE. Mentors had the option to attend formal mentor development workshops as well as engage in informal monthly meetings to discuss mentoring practices as part of the Mentor Alliance. More than 40 Mote staff members and one PIMS staff member have attended the mentor development workshops so far, and many Mote staff remain active participants in the Mentor Alliance. Trainings helped mentors select, set expectations for and engage with their students—all while honoring diverse communication styles and avoiding biases that can lead to unequal treatment of minority students, first-generation college students and people from difficult socioeconomic circumstances. The mentors taught students scientific methods along with essential career skills that might not receive enough focus in every science internships or degree programs—networking, resume building, and navigating the culture of science and academia.

    Ally Workshops, attended this year by Mote staff and a PIMS colleague, helped participants recognize their own privilege and support others who have less.

    According to surveys before and after, about two-thirds of program participants gained significantly more confidence in their mentor or ally skills.

Like all good scientists, we want to replicate this.

  • In MarSci-LACE year two of three, Mote scientists and partners at  Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce and the PIMS will address a crucial question: Can the first year of MarSci-LACE success be reproduced elsewhere, with other students and mentors?

    MarSci-LACE team members are planning to replicate and expand their programming at  Smithsonian and Perry when COVID-19 conditions allow interns to engage there. In the meantime, Mote staff are evaluating their multiple data streams, expanding on successful programming and planning innovative strategies to share best practices with other independent marine research institutions and LSAMP institutions around the U.S.

About MarSci-LACE

LSAMP MarSci-LACE is a nexus training, resource, and supporting partner to other independent marine research institutions, degree granting institutions, LSAMP students, and science mentors and faculty, with goals to:

  • Provide unique and authentic research and training opportunities to underrepresented, minority students that go beyond the training received by traditional degree-granting institutions.
  • Increase the number and preparedness of underrepresented minority students earning undergraduate degrees in marine sciences and related natural resources field.
  • Create resources and develop best practices to share among students, academic faculty, and independent marine research institution staff to improve academic and career retention and success in the marine sciences.
  • Show the vital role that independent marine research institutions play in academic and early career recruitment, retention, and success.
Read more great updates in the MarSci-LACE year-one newsletter.

MarSci-LACE is supported by NSF Award Number 1922351.