Student-Led Stanford Program Propels Community College Students into STEM

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Bridging the gap between community colleges and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) professions, Stanford University’s student-run Community College Outreach Program (CCOP) is launching research internships and summer boot camps for aspiring students.

Two Stanford developmental biology graduate students, who had both previously attended community college, recognized the need to advance traditionally underrepresented students into STEM fields, says Megan Agajanian, CCOP president and postdoctoral scholar. In 2020, with the support of Anne Villeneuve, Department of Developmental Biology chair, they developed CCOP.

Stanford student leaders recruit participants from community colleges of varying demographic and socioeconomic backgrounds for the program, including first-generation and low-income students. This work is essential, because although the STEM workforce gradually diversified between 2011 and 2021, underserved populations remain inadequately represented in these fields today, according to the 2023 National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics study “Diversity and STEM: Women, Minorities, and People with Disabilities.”

One aspect of the program, CCOP Transfer Preparation & Professional Development Bootcamp, is a six-week virtual summer program that provides participants with mentorship support from Stanford graduate and postdoctoral scholars. The program aims to broaden students’ professional skills so they can successfully transfer to a four-year institution and succeed in STEM fields. To date, over 50 students have participated in the boot camp.

In addition to the boot camp, another facet of the program is the CCOP Opportunities in Research Engagement (CORE), a 10-week paid internship program that takes place three times per year — in the fall, spring, and summer. Students are treated as valued colleagues and receive over $22 per hour to conduct research with an experienced laboratory mentor.

They also meet with a secondary academic and professional development mentor weekly, and are invited to participate in department events that help them feel integrated into the Stanford community.

“We recognize that students can’t just be dropped into a research setting. They need workshops. They need socialization. They need support from other people,” says Agajanian. “Science is hard and research is really hard. Students need support to navigate those challenges.— not even just with [lab work] but in dealing with imposter syndrome and a sense of belonging on campus.”

Not only do students benefit from the program, but mentors report unexpected outcomes as well, she says. Mentors are required to participate in DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) training on Stanford platforms to learn how to foster an inclusive research environment.

“At the end of the session, [mentors] are more inclined and more willing to be active in creating diverse, equitable, and inclusive spaces,” says Agajanian.

Today, CCOP is still entirely run by a team of Stanford students passionate about the work.

“We all remember what it was like to just start out in the lab,” Agajanian says. “[Our central mission is] to provide first-time research experiences so students can get a foot in the door. We want to start somebody’s CV. … It’s so hard to get started in science research with no background, and so we want to provide that background for students to get started.”

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