STEM partnership at UB, UPR Cayey wins Sloan Foundation grant

The program creates pathways for students at the University of Puerto Rico at Cayey, a federally designated Hispanic-serving institution, to pursue graduate studies at UB

Release Date: April 4, 2022

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Head shot of Luis A. Colón.
“We have had tremendous success in the past in recruiting excellent graduate students from UPR Cayey through these methods. ”
Luis Colón , SUNY Distinguished Professor and A. Conger Goodyear Professor in the Department of Chemistry, and associate dean for inclusive excellence in the College of Arts and Sciences
University at Buffalo
Head shot of Wilfredo Resto.
“This grant-funded partnership between UPR Cayey and UB formalizes and validates a partnership that has been materializing for many years, and that has been mutually beneficial for both institutions. ”
Wilfredo Resto, chair of chemistry
University of Puerto Rico at Cayey

BUFFALO, N.Y. — A $250,000 grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation will enhance a longstanding STEM education partnership between the University of Puerto Rico at Cayey (UPR Cayey) and the University at Buffalo.

For years, UB chemistry professor Luis Colón and department colleagues have recruited undergraduates from Puerto Rico to Buffalo to do summer research. UPR Cayey faculty, including chemistry professor Wilfredo Resto, have supported these efforts, and many of the students later returned to UB for graduate school.

The Sloan Foundation funding will bolster this program.

Through the grant, a total of 12 undergraduates from UPR Cayey will be selected to spend 10 weeks at UB conducting summer research in 2022 or 2023, with travel and housing costs covered. Participants will receive mentoring and attend academic and professional enrichment events, such as workshops focused on readiness for graduate school. Students who successfully complete these components will be offered admission to a graduate program in chemistry or another participating STEM discipline at UB.

New pathways for graduate education

The new grant is part of a nearly $5 million investment by the Sloan Foundation to build effective, equitable pathways into science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) graduate study. UPR Cayey is a federally designated Hispanic-serving institution.

“At an institutional level, this grant-funded partnership between UPR Cayey and UB formalizes and validates a partnership that has been materializing for many years, and that has been mutually beneficial for both institutions,” says Resto, PhD, chair of the UPR Cayey Department of Chemistry.

“At the student level, it provides UPR Cayey students with an excellent summer research experience at a research-intensive university,” Resto adds. “It also serves as an opportunity to participate in workshops that will improve their professional development for their acceptance into a graduate program. UB graduate students will benefit as well. Their participation in offering the workshops to the undergraduate students provides them with a unique networking opportunity to broaden their perspective in the topics of diversity, equity and inclusion.”

“We need to create pathways for students into graduate education, so that the enrollment in graduate programs better reflects the population of the United States,” says Colón, PhD, SUNY Distinguished Professor and A. Conger Goodyear Professor in the UB Department of Chemistry, and associate dean for inclusive excellence in the UB College of Arts and Sciences.

“Many students go to college and stop there. They don’t know about graduate school, and they don’t think to apply,” Colón says. “Instead of waiting for students to apply, we are bringing this opportunity to them. We meet them at UPR Cayey and talk to them individually about graduate school and what they would like to do in their careers. We have had tremendous success in the past in recruiting excellent graduate students from UPR Cayey through these methods.”

Expanding successful efforts

Zoom image: UB chemistry professor Luis A. Colón (left) with UB alumni Ivonne M. Ferrer (center) and Jesús M. Velázquez. Ferrer, a quality analytical leader at Corteva Agriscience, and Velázquez, a faculty member at the University of California, Davis, are among many alumni of the UPR Cayey who were recruited into UB's chemistry graduate program by Colón. Both earned their PhDs at UB and remain connected to the UB community. They are pictured during a 2021 visit to Buffalo. A new grant from the Sloan Foundation will build on past recruitment efforts, enhancing pathways for UPR Cayey alumni to pursue graduate degrees in participating STEM programs at UB. Credit: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki / University at Buffalo UB chemistry professor Luis A. Colón (left) with UB alumni Ivonne M. Ferrer (center) and Jesús M. Velázquez. Ferrer, a quality analytical leader at Corteva Agriscience, and Velázquez, a faculty member at the University of California, Davis, are among many alumni of the UPR Cayey who were recruited into UB's chemistry graduate program by Colón. Both earned their PhDs at UB and remain connected to the UB community. They are pictured during a 2021 visit to Buffalo. A new grant from the Sloan Foundation will build on past recruitment efforts, enhancing pathways for UPR Cayey alumni to pursue graduate degrees in participating STEM programs at UB. Credit: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki / University at Buffalo

UB chemistry professor Luis A. Colón (left) with UB alumni Ivonne M. Ferrer (center) and Jesús M. Velázquez. Ferrer, a quality analytical leader at Corteva Agriscience, and Velázquez, a faculty member at the University of California, Davis, are among many alumni of the UPR Cayey who were recruited into UB's chemistry graduate program by Colón. Both earned their PhDs at UB and remain connected to the UB community. They are pictured during a 2021 visit to Buffalo. A new grant from the Sloan Foundation will build on past recruitment efforts, enhancing pathways for UPR Cayey alumni to pursue graduate degrees in participating STEM programs at UB. Credit: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki / University at Buffalo

Since joining UB in 1993, Colón — a graduate of UPR Cayey — has helped to bring dozens of students from Puerto Rico to Buffalo to study or do research. More than 20 of the students enrolled in UB's graduate program and earned advanced degrees in chemistry, mostly PhDs. From Buffalo, these graduates have moved on to jobs in academia and industry, where they have continued to spread the word about opportunities at their alma maters.

In the past, grants from the National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation (NSF) have facilitated the UB-UPR Cayey partnership. For example, the UB chemistry department’s current Research Experiences for Undergraduates program, funded by the NSF, has attracted several participants from UPR Cayey.

The Sloan Foundation award will build on and formalize these efforts.

Colón is particularly excited about the prospect of expanding the program to new fields: While the grant proposal to the Sloan Foundation focused on chemistry, he said colleagues in other STEM departments at UB have expressed interest in recruiting students through the program, and that the Sloan Foundation is supportive of this.

“We are immensely grateful for funding from the Sloan Foundation, which recognizes and supports UB’s efforts to strengthen and expand pathways to graduate education for underrepresented students,” says Graham Hammill, PhD, UB vice provost for academic affairs and dean of the Graduate School.

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