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Holland Summer Science Programs transformational for young underrepresented students

Apr 7, 2022

When Isaiah Sloss and Leilanu Jackson think of incredible and memorable summer experiences during their high school years, it’s Indiana University Bloomington’s enrichment programs for science, technology, engineering and mathematics that jump to mind.

Two female students participate in a DNA analysis experiment
Students including Leilanu Jackson, left, participate in projects such as DNA analysis with gel electrophoresis – which forensic scientists use to compare crime scene data to suspect data – during IU’s Jim Holland Summer Science Programs.Photo courtesy of the Jim Holland Summer Science Programs

Both participated in the Jim Holland Summer Science Programs for high-achieving, underrepresented students in science entering grades 9 to 12. The programs offer them opportunities to learn more about the STEM fields through interaction with faculty and hands-on projects in the field and in the laboratory.

Both Sloss and Jackson said the camps were exciting and instrumental in establishing their career paths.

“I think that was the first time I learned you could go to a college and participate in science and do research hands-on with faculty,” said Sloss, who will graduate from the IU School of Medicine this semester and begin a residency in psychiatry with Indianapolis-based Community Health Network. “It was an eye-opening experience, and I got to meet other minorities interested in the sciences.”

“One of the biggest lessons it taught me was to be confident in your own ability,” said Jackson, a junior at IU Bloomington who will start an accelerated master’s program in public affairs in the fall at the Paul H. O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs. “A lot of times as minority students coming to a predominantly white institution, you may doubt your skills. This program solidifies a foundation of confidence that students need.”

STEM opportunities

The hands-on summer science programs, offered through the Department of Biology in the College of Arts and Sciences, are named in honor of the late James P. Holland, the first African American to earn a doctorate from IU’s biology department, and who later returned to IU to teach for 30 years. In 1990, Holland created the first of the three camps that are now offered as a summer enrichment program to give promising and talented students from historically underrepresented populations an opportunity to explore the STEM fields.

The Jim Holland Summer Enrichment Program in Biology, for students entering grades 9 to 11, introduces them to a variety of fields, such as molecular biology, genetics and plant sciences. The second-year program, the Jim Holland Summer Science Research Program, introduces students to scientific research and project work in a laboratory. The third-year program, the Jim Holland Research Initiative in STEM Education, known as RISE, provides STEM career and college training for incoming seniors. For all three camps, students are housed in residence halls on the Bloomington campus.

Mary Ann Massela-Tellas and Armin Moczek, the co-directors of the program, initiated the Summer Science Research Program in 2008 and RISE in 2016 to grow the program and expand the experiences and opportunities available for students from historically marginalized communities. RISE, though, tries to appeal especially to students who are considering attending IU.

A student watches as a syringe is used to apply a liquid to a plant
Two students work in a lab with microscopes
Photos courtesy of the Jim Holland Summer Science Programs

Participants come not just from around Indiana but also from neighboring states and increasingly distant locations, including California, Texas and Arizona. The first-year program averages 50 to 60 participants, the second-year 20 to 24 and the third-year eight to 10.

The programs have had an enormous, and lasting, impact on participants in their career choices and achievements, according to Massela-Tellas and Moczek. A survey sent to participants from 2008 to 2016 showed that, of the 133 who responded, 113 earned undergraduate degrees; 82 of those degrees were in STEM fields. Forty-five of the respondents had earned professional or graduate degrees, and 34 of those were in STEM fields.

“A lot of the comments I have received from students have been that their experience with this series of programs has been truly inspirational for them,” Massela-Tellas said. She said the Jim Holland Summer Science Programs often afford opportunities that are unavailable to students at their high schools and provide a sense of community with other students of color.

Welcomed and empowered

Sloss said that representation in STEM fields is important for minority students.

“What you see helps to create your identity,” the Indianapolis native said. “It’s hard to be interested in things you don’t know exist.”

Sloss said he learned of the Jim Holland Summer Science Programs from a high school guidance counselor, who knew he had an interest in science. Sloss participated in the first- and second-year programs in 2008 and 2009, and he saw successful faculty of color who were doing research. He said that made him think it was an attainable goal for himself as well. Additionally, the welcoming feeling the camps created and the support and encouragement from faculty and counselors gave Sloss confidence and made his undergraduate years at IU easier, he said.

During the second-year program, Sloss said he worked on a project that used an electron microscope and a computer program to create a 3D model of a protein’s structure to better understand the protein’s function.

“It was a fun time,” he said. “That was the first time I got a chance to use an electron microscope.”

Students talk while gathered in a group
Isaiah Sloss said he enjoyed his experience as a student in the Jim Holland Summer Science Programs so much that he has returned multiple times to help as a camp counselor.Photo courtesy of the Jim Holland Summer Science Programs

Armed with experience and confidence, the next summer Sloss participated in cancer research at the Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center in Indianapolis through a program with his high school.

Sloss has remained connected to the programs, serving as a camp counselor for multiple years. He recalled how important counselors were in answering his questions and offering encouragement, and he wants to do what he can to support the programs because they benefited him.

“I feel the Holland programs are super important for what they do for minority students as far as giving them access to unique opportunities, and the opportunities and ability to get into this space in a way that is really welcoming, and in a way that makes them empowered as they go forward,” said Sloss, who hopes to be a child psychiatrist.

Solid foundation created

Jackson was encouraged by her mother, a forensic scientist, to participate in the Jim Holland Summer Enrichment Program in Biology. She said she loved that initial experience so much that she continued with the programs every year of high school, including the Summer Science Research Program as a sophomore and junior.

The Marion, Indiana, native said she appreciated how the programs showed her the vast opportunities in STEM fields and that there were other students who looked like her and were as academically motivated.

“I think seeing everybody at the camp performing at the same capacity as I was, being just as engaged and driven academically, I think that was very rewarding,” Jackson said.

Some of her memories include going to Griffy Lake to learn about ecology and putting dye into the Campus River and taking samples every five minutes for several hours to measure the rate of dispersion to mimick fertilizer runoff.

“That was really cool,” she said of the fertilizer runoff experiment. “We got rained on, so you got to see what happens when things don’t go your way in the field and see how that shows up later in your data.”

Jackson said the programs also forged lasting friendships with the students, counselors and faculty. She said it prepared her well for the college experience by providing experiences with lectures and lab experiments, and access to IU’s admissions and financial aid staff.

That foundation has Jackson eager to start her master’s program, which she said will be a good mix of science and policy classes that should prepare her for a career in environmental justice.

Being both Black and a Pacific Islander, Jackson said her goal is “ensuring minority groups are afforded the same environmental benefits as predominantly white populations.” She also wants to examine how climate change affects those who live in the Pacific and what climate change means for them in the future.

Jackson’s experience with the Holland programs has been so positive that her younger brother has applied to participate.

“It’s a great opportunity, especially for students looking to study STEM and then continue their education at IU,” she said. “It really provides you a solid foundation of what your experience will be in college, and it gives you a mini family.”

The deadline to apply for the Jim Holland Summer Science Programs this year is April 18.

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Kirk Johannesen

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