UIC Bridges to Baccalaureate Program

Encouraging scientific research careers among underrepresented groups

Funded by a federal grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, one of the National Institutes of Health (NIGMS-1R25GM107692-01), the University of Illinois at Chicago launched the Bridges to Baccalaureate program in 2013 to increase the number of underrepresented students who pursue degrees and research careers in the behavioral and biomedical sciences. The NIH grant partners UIC with the Community Colleges of Chicago and South Suburban College to bolster recruitment, training, mentorship and degree completion in health-related fields for students from underrepresented backgrounds.

“Researchers from underrepresented populations are in high demand, given persistent societal health disparities,” says Paula Allen-Meares, Ph.D., the grant’s principal investigator. “As one of the most diverse universities in the nation, UIC is well-positioned and eager to offer this program that will give transfer students from underrepresented backgrounds the skills to be successful not only in their academic careers, but as professional health scientists.”

Starting in 2014, UIC’s Behavioral and Biomedical Sciences Bridges to Baccalaureate program began recruiting students who qualify to transfer to UIC from the Community Colleges of Chicago. In 2015, the program also began recruiting students from South Suburban College. Student participants pursue their UIC degree in one of three areas aligned with their research and career interests: sciences (in subject areas including biology, chemistry, math, psychology or physics), nursing, public health, or liberal arts.

The research

The program offers students an intensive summer research skills workshop, an assigned research mentor, access to peer-tutors, and support for science and academic skill development through cohort activities including participation at a national health science conference.

Students selected for the program begin preparation to bridge to UIC’s baccalaureate programs in nursing, public health, or liberal arts and sciences at the conclusion of their second year at participating community colleges:
  • The sciences track (natural sciences and social sciences) heightens students’ knowledge and skills in diverse specialties such as cancer biology, tissue engineering and neuroscience.
  • The nursing track builds students’ knowledge and skills in research methods and statistical analysis, along with skills in managing the healthcare needs of individuals and communities.
  • The public health track advances students’ knowledge and skills in traditional basic sciences, but also in two disciplines—epidemiology and biostatistics—considered critical to understanding and improving public health problems.
  • “UIC’s Behavioral and Biomedical Sciences Bridges to Baccalaureate Program enhances students’ basic research skills, such as quantitative and qualitative analysis, critical thinking and innovation,” says Allen-Meares. “These skills and the capacity for leadership and collaboration are gained by working alongside faculty members in their respective programs.”

    The partnership

    Another component of the NIH grant, the Community College Faculty Bridges program, offers selected community college faculty an opportunity to participate in the summer research skills workshop and to work alongside a UIC research mentor from one of the three colleges represented in the program. The faculty/mentor research experience is intended to help community college faculty to improve science education at their home community colleges.

    Current partnerships between UIC and community colleges include the Guaranteed Admission Transfer program, which offers Chicago community college students guaranteed undergraduate admission to UIC after successful completion of their first two years of college, and a NIH-sponsored Bridges to the Doctorate for Minority Nursing Students program in the UIC College of Nursing.

    The program was also tied to UIC’s role directing the Illinois State Board of Education’s Health Science Learning Exchange, which began in 2012 as part of a $10.3 million public-private partnership to better prepare Illinois students for careers in science, technology, engineering and math fields.

    The City Colleges of Chicago is the largest community college system in Illinois and one of the largest in the nation, with 5,800 faculty and staff serving 120,000 students annually at seven colleges citywide. South Suburban College has more than 300 faculty and staff, serving approximately 7,000 students annually.

    UIC ranks among the nation’s leading research universities and is Chicago’s largest university with 27,500 students, 12,000 faculty and staff, 15 colleges and the state’s major public medical center, and maintains a deep commitment to student success. A hallmark of the campus is the Great Cities Commitment, through which UIC faculty, students and staff engage with community, corporate, foundation and government partners to improve the quality of life in metropolitan areas around the world.