Program connects minorities with careers in science, math

Jennifer Nacin

She enrolled at Iowa State at age 16 after thinking three years before that she might never attend college.

Now 17, Claribel Orellana, freshman in civil engineering, dreams of the day after graduation when she will travel to Central America to pursue a career in waste water management. All of this might not have been possible had it not been for the Science Bound program.

Orellana is a member of the program, which began in 1990, that aims to increase the presence of under-represented ethnic minority groups in the fields of science and mathematics.

Science Bound reaches out to students in grades eight to 12 from 10 middle schools and five high schools in the Des Moines area. Students are invited to join the program during their eighth-grade or ninth-grade years, and they must have a 3.0 grade point average until their graduation and participate in the activities provided in order to stay in the program. If they meet the ISU admission requirements upon graduation, the students receive a full tuition scholarship to Iowa State, provided they pursue a degree in a technical field.

Anita Rollins, Science Bound program coordinator, said she has seen a number of students benefit from the program.

“[The program was started] because of the continuing problem in the low number of ethnic minority students who pursue science- and math-related careers, not only at Iowa State, but nationally,” Rollins said.

In 2002, Science Bound high school graduates accounted for 30 percent of the under-represented students who attended Iowa State that year, Rollins said.

“In fact, before Science Bound existed,” Rollins said, “most of the recruitment of ethnic minority students took place out-of-state because there weren’t enough students who qualified to actually come on to college within the state.”

Rollins said she has noticed many of the under-represented students at Iowa State have been enrolled in the Science Bound program at one time or another, whether they graduate with a technical degree or switch to another major.

Currently, 31 ISU Science Bound students are still on scholarship and pursing technical degrees.

Approximately 50 Des Moines high school students join the program annually.

Rollins said although these numbers are increasing slightly, the issue of escalating the presence of ethnic minority groups in technical fields “remains an important issue to be addressed.”

Increasing these numbers will have positive effects on any organization, company or project that welcomes such individuals, she said.

“By bringing in different perspectives and different ways of thinking, they find that problem-solving is accomplished in a more comprehensive way,” Rollins said.

Steve Benson, Orellana’s North High School Science Bound teacher and site coordinator for Des Moines Public Schools, said many Science Bound students are first-generation Americans — like Orellana.

Students attend weekly meetings with Science Bound high school faculty to have scientific discussions or take field trips to learn more about science or math degrees. Orellana and other students visited Iowa State four Saturdays a year to speak with faculty and students about different majors and career possibilities.

There are hopes the program will continue to expand in Iowa and across the nation. Rollins said organizers plan to start a Science Bound program in Marshalltown within the next few years.