Jacqueline Aldridge, assistant dean for access and academic development programs in the College of Arts and Sciences.

NUCLEUS expands focus

Successful academic program supports underrepresented students


1:36 p.m., July 22, 2011--After nearly two decades of supporting historically underrepresented science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) students in their academic careers, the University of Delaware’s Network of Undergraduate Collaborative Learning Experiences for Underrepresented Scholars (NUCLEUS) program is expanding its mission to encompass a wider range of academic majors within the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS). 

Guiding the expansion are Jacqueline Aldridge, who in June began serving in a new position as assistant dean for access and academic development programs in CAS, where NUCLEUS now is housed, and Rosalind Johnson, who has directed the Arts and Humanities Summer Institute since 2008 and served as interim director of the McNair Program from June to December 2010. Aldridge served as the NUCLEUS program coordinator from 2006 until taking her new position.

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Previously focused on students in the natural sciences, and particularly the life sciences, NUCLEUS began at UD in 1992 with a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to support undergraduate education in biological sciences. 

“We’ve been phasing in the expansion since January, doing outreach to let students and departments know that NUCLEUS is now a part of CAS and will be accepting students from the social sciences, arts and humanities, in addition to the natural sciences,” Aldridge said. “The vision and the support that NUCLEUS offers for STEM students will remain the same as before, but we’ll be working to provide that same kind of academic support network to students in a broader ranges of disciplines."

She also noted that CAS will be working with the Office of Undergraduate Research and Experiential Learning to expand undergraduate research opportunities and that she and Johnson will be expanding the NUCLEUS program's workshops and seminar series that "help students be successful in their majors.” She noted that current students in the program often have said they wished some of their friends who were not science majors could join the program and benefit from the research opportunities and academic mentoring it offers.

“And now those students can be part of NUCLEUS,” Aldridge said. “Our community building will certainly increase.”

About 120 STEM students a year participated in the program while it was funded by HHMI. Aldridge and Johnson expect that number to more than double by the end of 2011-12. In addition to recruiting students in other CAS majors, NUCLEUS is reaching out to the Associate in Arts Program, which allows eligible students to complete two years of UD coursework at various locations in Delaware and then have the option to finish their bachelor’s degree at the Newark campus. Beginning this fall, Associate in Arts students will be encouraged to join NUCLEUS when they transition to the Newark campus, and NUCLEUS plans to expand its efforts by reaching out to Associate in Arts sites this fall.

“This outreach is especially exciting,” Aldridge said. “It’s important to let these students know about all the academic support services that are available once they come to the Newark campus. We will be working closely with the CAS Undergraduate Academic Services staff to help with their transition” to the Newark campus and with their degree-completion goals.

Aldridge and Johnson work in close partnership on day-to-day duties such as pre-career counseling, advising and mentoring students, helping them find resources such as tutoring, academic enrichment services, information about graduate schools and leadership and professional development opportunities. Peer-to-peer mentoring is a signature feature of the program, she said, as more advanced students help guide first- and second-year students as they define and pursue their academic goals.

“The aim of NUCLEUS is to diversify the pipeline leading to graduate school and careers requiring graduate professional degrees,” Aldridge said. "This is not a student club; it’s an academic support network.” 

In addition to the programming provided to current CAS students, Johnson said, "The college is also accelerating its efforts to focus on pre-college outreach in order to provide additional academic, financial and informational support to local and regional middle and high school students.”

In announcing Aldridge's appointment, the college said the new assistant dean position will "provide vision, leadership and coordination for initiatives designed to enhance CAS recruitment and retention of students from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups as well as first-generation and low-income students."

Dean George Watson thanked Aldridge "for her fine efforts with NUCLEUS over the years and for her leadership as we expand this proven approach across CAS."

Academic plans for new graduates

NUCLEUS has more than 600 alumni, of whom many have gone on to continue their education in graduate or professional schools. In May, the program's annual year-end dinner celebrated 32 new graduates and noted that 50 percent of the 2011 senior class will be attending graduate or professional school this fall. They are:

• Rochelle Day, Ross University 

• Kristofer Dewberry, doctor of veterinary medicine program at Cornell University

• Michael Dickinson, doctoral program in history at UD

• Galen Giaccone, Baltimore Dental School of the University of Maryland

• Reza Hammond, doctoral program in computer science at UD

• Jenny Kim, University of Pennsylvania Dental School

• Christopher Liddie, Temple University Pharmacy School

• David Marsan, graduate program in marine studies with a concentration in oceanography at UD

• Shakir McLean, Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University

• Adrienne Miller, graduate program in genetic counseling at the University of Pittsburgh

• Stephanie Pagan, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey Dental School

• David Rodriguez, master's degree program in biomedical sciences at Mount Sinai School of Medicine Graduate School of Biological Sciences

• Ashley Santana, clinical mental health counseling program at Valparaiso University 

• Wuroh Timbo, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

• Danielle Toupo, doctoral program in applied math at Cornell University

• Devan Turner, doctoral program in chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania

Several former NUCLEUS students also will begin graduate or professional studies this year. They include:

• Jill Beitz (Class of 2010), Virginia Commonwealth University School of Dentistry

• Olivia Gibson (2010), master of public health program at Boston University

• Jubril Onaneye (2009), Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine

• Chati Zony (2007), MD/Ph.D program at Mount Sinai 

More facts about the Class of 2011

The 2011 NUCLEUS senior class has an average cumulative GPA of 3.24, with 47 percent of students on the Dean’s List during the 2010-11 academic year.

With all 32 seniors on schedule to have their undergraduate degrees by August 2011, the program is projecting a 100 percent graduation rate.

Fifty-seven percent of the graduates are residents of Delaware, and 22 percent are first-generation college students.

In addition, 66 percent participated in undergraduate research, with 57 percent presenting their research at a local, regional or national conference; 41 percent participated in an internship or field practicum; and 24 percent participated in at least one study aboard session.

Of the students in the program, 43 percent identified themselves as African American and 19 percent as Hispanic.

History of the NUCLEUS program

Harold White, professor of chemistry and biochemistry, and David Usher, associate professor of biological sciences, guided the leadership of the HHMI Program at UD beginning in 1998 and have supported NUCLEUS since that time.

Victoria Orner, the first NUCLEUS coordinator, was recruited by Philip A. Gottlieb, then assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry and principal investigator for the grant. Orner previously had been academic adviser for the Utah State University College of Humanities, Art and Social Sciences and directed minority and special programs for the College of Science. 

Cherie Dotson, who received a bachelor's degree in chemistry from Spelman College and a doctorate in inorganic chemistry from the University of Michigan, became the second NUCLEUS coordinator. Dotson is now student affairs manager for graduate student recruitment and outreach in the College of Pharmacy at the University of Michigan. Orner and Dotson touched the lives of more than 400 students during their leadership.

Zakiya Wilson served as NUCLEUS coordinator from 2005-2006, when she returned to Louisiana State University to become a graduate coordinator in the Department of Chemistry. Aldridge then became coordinator of the program.

"I am very excited to learn of this new chapter in the history of the NUCLEUS Program," Dotson said of the expansion. "It is good to know that the services provided by NUCLEUS will now be available to a wider range of students. NUCLEUS and the students with whom I had an opportunity to work will always be close to my heart and I am happy that this legacy of services will continue with the full support of the University of Delaware."

Photos by Evan Krape and Kathy F. Atkinson

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