College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences

New undergraduate program seeks to expand and diversify the bioengineering workforce


Clemson University is launching the Call Me Doctor ESTEEMED Scholars Program for undergraduates who are from groups that are underrepresented in STEM and have an interest in conducting biomedically-related research and pursuing a Ph.D. or M.D./Ph.D after completing their undergraduate degree.

The idea is to help underrepresented students overcome the barriers that often keep them from entering graduate programs. Just 7.9% of students enrolled in bioengineering or biomedical engineering nationwide were from groups underrepresented in the discipline, according to the National Science Foundation’s 2019 Survey of Earned Doctorates.

Angela Alexander-Bryant and Jordon Gilmore, both assistant professors of bioengineering, are organizing Call Me Doctor ESTEEMED Scholars Program.

The Call Me Doctor ESTEEMED Scholars Program provides programming for first- and second-year students. Scholars will live on campus the summer before freshman year and learn from mentors. The scholars will conduct research during their freshmen and sophomore years and receive a competitive salary.

Previous research has shown that mentoring and early exposure to activities such as research helps underrepresented students persist in rigorous undergraduate and graduate programs. The new program is designed to help students build confidence, create a STEM identity, and establish a network of peers, faculty and administrators to support them on their academic journey.

The program’s organizers are Angela Alexander-Bryant and Jordon Gilmore, both assistant professors of bioengineering at Clemson.

“Our goal is to increase the number of students, particularly from underrepresented groups, who are participating in research early in their college years and then moving on to a Ph.D.,” Alexander-Bryant said. “We can also use this as a recruiting mechanism that helps bring in high-achieving students who might have gone elsewhere for college.”

Gilmore said the program targets highly talented freshmen and sophomores who will be part of the Honors College in addition to the ESTEEMED scholars program. The program is open to students in bioengineering and bioengineering-related disciplines, including: biological sciences; genetics and biochemistry; electrical engineering; chemical engineering; and materials science and engineering.

ESTEEMED scholars who sign up prior to freshman year will participate in the Summer Bridge Program, which will give them a chance to live on campus before the academic year begins. They will be introduced to research, campus life, mentors and each other.

“The goal is to have the students work together in a cohort model in which they build relationships with each other that can support them throughout their time at Clemson,” Gilmore said.

The Call Me Doctor ESTEEMED Scholars Program is funded with $1 million from the National Institute of Biomedical Engineering and Bioengineering’s research education program, Enhancing Science, Technology, EnginEering and Math Educational Diversity (ESTEEMED).

Delphine Dean, chair of the Department of Bioengineering, said the grant was well deserved.

“The Call Me Doctor ESTEEMED Scholars Program incorporates innovative programming, mentoring, research experiences and career development to help widen and diversify the talent pipeline,” she said. “I congratulate Drs. Alexander-Bryant and Gilmore on developing the program and finding funding for it.”

The undergraduate program is an offshoot of Call Me Doctor, a graduate program established in 2010. Call Me Doctor provides mentoring and financial support to students who are from underrepresented groups and are pursuing doctorates in STEM disciplines. Since Call Me Doctor launched, 85% of participants completed their doctoral degrees.

Some of the mentors to the ESTEEMED scholars will come from Call Me Doctor. Gilmore, who was a fellow in Call Me Doctor before joining Clemson’s faculty, is now the program’s director.

Robert Jones, executive vice president for academic affairs and provost, said investment in programs such as Call Me Doctor is paying dividends.

“Extending this Part of Call Me Doctor supports Ph.D. students as part of our efforts to expand the STEM workforce, and the ESTEEMED Scholars program will allow us to apply these same successful concepts at the undergraduate level,” he said. “These two programs together will be a powerful force for building the workforce of tomorrow in STEM disciplines.”

Anand Gramopadhye, dean of the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences, said the Call Me Doctor ESTEEMED Scholars Program is helping create the leaders, innovators, and entrepreneurs of the future.

“I congratulate Drs. Alexander-Bryant and Gilmore on their award,” Gramopadhye said. “Programs such as these are key as we develop career pathways and for students from underrepresented groups and create a more diverse workforce.”

The Call Me Doctor ESTEEMED Scholars program will have room for five incoming first year students per year, and the first cohort starts this fall.

For more details, visit the program website here.

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