How To Help the Students in Middle

This spring the University of Maryland, Baltimore County celebrated the 30th anniversary of one of its hallmarks: the Meyerhoff Scholars Program.

Often heralded as a national model for diversifying the sciences, the program has helped hundreds of high-achieving students from minority backgrounds earn advanced degrees in science, math, engineering, and related fields.

Now there’s another question: How can universities like UMBC help a wider array of students, the ones who don’t have the top SAT scores or the very highest GPAs? How can they scale a program like Meyerhoff to help the masses, the students in the middle?

A Foot in the Door

Students like Shehar Awan. Shehar’s a biology major who transferred to UMBC from a community college. He’s part of a newer effort at UMBC called STEM BUILD, funded by the National Institutes of Health to study how universities can help a broad group of students aspire to, and succeed in, biomedical and behavioral research fields.

The first time Shehar was ever exposed to research, he told us, was during a summer bridge program through STEM BUILD. It made him feel more confident, he said, because it taught him lab skills like how to use a pipette. Then, when the academic year started, he felt like he already had a foot in the door to get the kind of research opportunities he wanted on campus. That’s not always easy for transfer students like him.

UMBC is one of 10 universities that are part of the NIH study. The program offers support for students through summer programs, peer networks, tutors and mentors, and living-learning communities.

Unlike other, prestigious scholarship programs, STEM BUILD focuses on undergraduates who are at risk of not completing degrees in those disciplines. Fewer than two out of five students who enter college intending to major in a STEM field complete a STEM degree.

So far, early results have shown promise in keeping more students in STEM disciplines, helping them earn higher grade-point averages, and connecting them with more research opportunities, said Kathy Sutphin, assistant dean for academic affairs in the College of Natural and Mathematical Sciences at UMBC.

Demystifying Research

What’s making the most difference? Here’s what Shehar and the other students we talked to told us: Being part of a supportive community of peers. Getting a head start on basic lab skills like pipetting. Having tutors and mentors to demystify the world of research.

Taken together, it makes Jamie Mushrush, a biochemistry and molecular biology major, feel like less of a stranger in a strange land.

Sciences aren’t always written or taught in the most accessible way, she said. “It’s intimidating.”

But people in the program taught her things like how to write effective abstracts and that helped her build trust with the university researchers she works with. It reassured her, too.

“Learning the ins and outs of the research community make it easier to feel like you are supposed to be here.”

— Sara Hebel

The Long-Term Value of a Degree

Is college worth it? And how should we figure out what that even means?

The latest report from Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce tries to tackle the return on investment students get decades after attending college. Using data from the federal College Scorecard, specifically net price and median earnings, the center ranked 4,500 colleges on the “net present value” of their degrees.

Two questions we keep asking ourselves:

  • Yes, money matters, but what happens when we relentlessly focus on future earnings? Social workers are going to make less than engineers. Our society needs both.
  • Without data about what individual students paid for college (not just average net prices) and what those same people eventually earned, aren’t we flying blind? These aggregates are hiding a lot of information. Although soon, we’ll get program-specific earnings data in the College Scorecard, which will provide much more insight than the institution-wide numbers do now.

The E Stands for Everywhere

Can something be both niche and ubiquitous? Esports seems to fall in that category right now. For an industry that now claims $1 billion in revenue and hundreds of millions of viewers, every mainstream article still assumes the reader has barely heard of them.

This compelling long read by Luke Winkie in The Atlantic is no exception. Learn more about Harrisburg University in Pennsylvania. You’ve probably never heard of the 18-year-old college with just 750 students, but in the world of collegiate esports, it’s a powerhouse. And their only varsity athletes play video games.

Harrisburg Storm League of Legends player, Titus

At Harrisburg University, Esports Players Are The Only Athletes

Is this the future of college athletics?

Recommendation Corner

Writing this newsletter has given me newfound appreciation for the email newsletters I love to see pop up in my inbox. Here are three:

The Download

By Charlotte Jee at MIT Technology Review. An excellent daily way to keep up on what’s happening in tech.


Are Henry Abbott’s “award-winning hard truths about the NBA” worth paying for? Yep. You can start with the once-a-month free version.


Dave Pell describes himself as a “curation savant.” He’s right. 10 stories a day, summarized quickly. Signal from the noise.


We’re just getting this start-up going. And NewsMatch, a national campaign to encourage donations to nonprofit news, is helping us out.

If you set up a new recurring monthly donation to Open Campus today, NewsMatch will match a full year’s worth of gifts. So make a monthly $5 gift, and NewsMatch will put in $60. Make it $10 and we’ll get an extra $120. That’s a tremendous return for both of us.

Thanks to all those who have already contributed to this first fundraising campaign. We’re writing this from co-working space we just leased with those dollars. And we’ll introduce you next week to the intern it’s letting us hire.

Here’s that link again to give — and have your donation doubled.

Co-founder and editor-in-chief of Open Campus