Inara Devji likely would not still be a student at Clemson University without the COSMIC — College of Science Mentoring and Inclusion Collaborative — program.
“Coming to a predominantly white institution, I felt really alone,” said Devji, a senior microbiology major of Hispanic and Pakistani descent. “My main reason for joining COSMIC was to find people who were like me so that I didn’t feel as alone in the big ocean of people that were different than me.”
Devji said she felt lonely and isolated during her first few weeks at Clemson. When she attended events, she noticed people directed their conversations to her roommate, who was white, instead of her. Devji considered dropping out until she joined COSMIC. COSMIC paired her with a mentor who was Hispanic.
“I honestly think if I hadn’t met her and joined the dance team I’m on now, I probably wouldn’t have stayed at Clemson,” said Devji, who now serves as a third-year mentor for COSMIC. “It made a big difference.”
COSMIC, an award-winning ecosystem of support for students in the College of Science, began in 2018. It matches incoming students with student mentors from similar backgrounds and interests. Besides mentorship, the program includes study halls, service-learning opportunities, an awards ceremony and more.
SCIENCE in Living Color, designed to support students from racial groups traditionally underrepresented in science fields, was COSMIC’s first affinity group. Next came Women in Science Defining Our Moments, known as WISDOM, designed to create community and support for women pursuing science degrees. Since then, the program has added groups for men, military and veteran students, first-generation college students, transfer students, students with disabilities and LGBTQIA+ students. Faculty and staff liaisons who identify with at least one affinity group serve as a support system.
The structure of the program is intentional.
Want to feel included
“Students want to feel included. They don’t need silo groups only to go back into classrooms and still feel like the lone person,” said Sharetta Bufford, assistant director of recruitment and inclusive excellence for the College of Science and director of COSMIC. “Creating an ecosystem allows students to connect with others outside of their affinity groups while still being able to go back to their affinity groups to regain the energy they need to deal with people with whom they may not agree or share the same values. The whole point of COSMIC is the inclusivity aspect.”
McKenzie Gardner, a senior biological sciences major, said COSMIC gives students a sense of belonging.
“It’s important to know that you’re not alone,” said Gardner, who began participating in COSMIC during her first year on campus and now is in her third year of mentoring incoming students. “I think one of the biggest reasons students drop out, especially at larger institutions, is they think they’re the only one going through something. They feel like they’re the only one experiencing it, and they don’t have anybody to hold on to. I think that’s when students leave — when they don’t have anybody.”
Gardner is a senior majoring in biological sciences from Kingstree, South Carolina. The Honors College student said COSMIC connected her with other minoritized students and with fellow science majors. She said it was helpful to talk to other science students who are minoritized.
“They understand what you’re going through. You don’t have to go into every single detail because as soon as you start talking, they know what you’re talking about because they’ve gone through something similar or know somebody who went through it,” said Gardner. “It’s important to have a group of people who you can relate to and who can relate to you.”
The program designed to help students be successful is working.
In 2019-20, the retention rate for first-time, full-time students in the College of Science who took part in COSMIC was 97 percent, nearly 4 percent higher than the retention rate for the College overall. COSMIC participants had a 3.41 GPA.
COSMIC recently received national recognition as a 2021 Inspiring Programs in STEM Award recipient from INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine, the largest and oldest diversity and inclusion publication in higher education. The award honors colleges and universities that encourage and assist students from underrepresented groups to enter the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
The College of Science pursues excellence in scientific discovery, learning and engagement that is both locally relevant and globally impactful. The life, physical and mathematical sciences converge to tackle some of tomorrow’s scientific challenges, and our faculty are preparing the next generation of leading scientists. The College of Science offers high-impact transformational experiences such as research, internships and study abroad to help prepare our graduates for top industries, graduate programs and health professions. clemson.edu/science
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