At South Dakota State University the FAST REEU Fellowship program offers educational and research opportunities for Native American and economically challenged students. The long-term goal of the initiative is to encourage students to pursue careers in academia and in industries related to food, agriculture, natural resources, and human sciences (FANH). The project is funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Food Research Education Literacy Initiative (USDA AFRI). These specialized REEU experiences take place over two consecutive summers. The program focuses on mentoring the undergraduates for life skills and research experiences at SDSU during the first summer, which helps prepare them for the second summer when they participate in a career-oriented internship at a research facility of their choice.
“I learned so much,” says chemistry major Heather Collazo of her 2019 experience as a FAST REEU Scholar. A member of the Navajo Nation, she describes her participation as “an invaluable experience, if you come in with an open mind.” Collazo also touts the professional development component of the program. “A lot of the interpersonal skills you learn are needed to be successful,” she says, “be it in your career or as you continue your education.”
Participants receive a $6,000 traineeship stipend during their first summer of participation. For onsite programming, housing is made available at SDSU. An additional $6,000 stipend is awarded for the second summer. Applicants should be a U.S. citizen, national, or permanent resident; an American Indian student from an economically challenged background; and a current college student pursuing an undergraduate degree in any life science major or one of the FANH areas of study.
➜ Applications for 2021 summer programming will likely be due in mid-March. For more details, COVID-19–related updates, and application information, go to sdstate.edu/biology-and-microbiology/fast-reeu-application and click on Undergrad Summer Research Opportunities.
ASK THE PROGRAM DIRECTOR
→ DR. MADHAV NEPAL
Why is SDSU offering this unique opportunity? We developed this project to make a difference in addressing critical STEM workforce needs by making a significant investment in Native American and economically challenged students who show promise in food, agriculture, natural resources, and human sciences (FANH) fields. Another important aspect of this commitment is that it aligns with SDSU’s Wokini (“New Beginnings”) initiative by enhancing research and outreach collaborations with tribes and tribal colleges.
How does this program benefit participants’ educational and professional careers? We are focused on helping FAST REEU Scholars develop and refine 21st-century skills. For example, in our Nepal Lab at SDSU, students are mentored to enhance their communication and interpersonal skills besides learning molecular techniques, including genotyping, sequencing, and gene expression experiments. We have had participants such as Heather Collazo conduct what we call “jumping genes” research — advanced, cutting-edge work studying how aging affects the regulation of a particular type a gene known as L1 within body and reproductive cells. After her undergraduate degree from the University of South Dakota, Heather has decided to join the SDSU graduate program starting this fall. Another FAST alumnus, Dillon Nelson from Pine Ridge Reservation, joined our biology PhD program earlier this year. All our alumni are either on STEM career paths or successfully pursuing graduate programs.
Who should apply to FAST REEU? We encourage applications from minority and economically disadvantaged STEM students who are academically inclined. We’re looking for people with a strong interest in the life sciences or any of the FANH areas of study.
What are some unique aspects of this opportunity? The Wokini Initiative I mentioned is SDSU’s collaborative and holistic framework to support American Indian student success and Indigenous nation building. It is reflected in all facets of FAST REEU. For instance, we recruit primarily from tribal colleges and SDSU. We focus not only on the academic and technical skills required for careers in teaching and FANH industries, but also on providing the mentoring needed to encourage and retain talented students so they can successfully pursue their career paths.
The Summer Academy of Actuarial and Mathematical Sciences (SAAMS) Program is an academic enrichment opportunity for high school seniors and recent grads interested in mathematics and actuarial science. SAAMS scholars selected for this six-week summer experience at Morgan State University in Baltimore are exposed to interdisciplinary approaches as they are introduced to college-level courses.
Professionals from African American, Hispanic, and Native American communities are significantly underrepresented in the actuarial field, which has high employment rates and offers starting salaries as much as $100,000 or more. SAAMS was created to serve as a talent pipeline to increase the number of diverse students who earn degrees and credentials in mathematics and actuarial science. To be considered eligible for SAAMS you must be a rising 12th grader, a graduating high school senior, or an incoming freshman at Morgan State and be interested in pursuing a mathematics, actuarial science, or computer science degree at Morgan State University. To apply you’ll need a completed online application, two letters of recommendation, and an official high school transcript.
Participants are selected through a competitive application and interview process. Accepted students receive innovative classroom instruction complemented by hands-on experiences, field trips, and interactions with guest speakers who are actuarial professionals. In addition, all SAAMS scholars are awarded a stipend upon graduating from the program.
A public research university, Morgan State is the first and only historically Black college or university in the United States to offer a BS in actuarial science, while a small number of HBCUs offer a mathematics degree with a concentration in actuarial science. In 2020 due to health concerns surrounding COVID-19, Morgan State delivered the program virtually to 30 scholars from across the country.
➜ The 2020 application deadline was June 1. For more information on how to apply, go to aigc.academicworks.com/opportunities/32066.
ASK AN ORGANIZER
→ EMILY CABALLERO
What exactly is actuarial science?Actuarial science is a specialized field, and actuaries are highly trained, highly paid professionals who manage risk using data, mathematics, and statistics. Actuaries tend to work in the insurance and financial services industry for companies such as Travelers and Prudential, consulting firms such as Willis Towers Watson, and government agencies. In fact, SAAMS is supported through initiatives like the Morgan-based Travelers EDGE program, whose mission is founded in Empowering Dreams for Graduation and Employment. For more information about the field of actuarial science, visit beanactuary.org.
How did Morgan State become a leader in attracting more diverse students to actuarial science? In 2008 at Morgan State we decided to become a catalyst of change within the profession by helping to create a new talent pipeline of people from diverse backgrounds. We have found that an important step in attracting qualified students from underrepresented populations is making actuarial science pathways more accessible to people who otherwise wouldn’t have considered the field as a career choice.
What kinds of results have you seen from the program? More than 300 students have completed our SAAMS Program, which is housed in Morgan State’s School of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences. Some students have returned year after year to participate in the program, and some have gone on to enroll at Morgan in the university’s Actuarial Science Program. Because the SAAMS experience includes guest speakers from the industry who help introduce participants to what it means to be an actuary, we have also seen students develop mentor-mentee relationships with industry professionals and even secure additional opportunities such as internships and employment.
What is required of students interested in the actuarial career path? Although many practicing actuaries do not hold a master’s degree, actuaries must pass a series of professional exams to reach the top of their field. The Actuarial Science Program at Morgan has intentionally designed its curriculum sequence to prepare its students for the first three exams upon graduation, producing highly competitive graduates in the field. Although actuarial science majors are not required to take professional exams while at Morgan, they have that option.
Why is Morgan State a good place for diverse students in actuarial science? The Actuarial Science Program at Morgan State provides students with a uniquely strong foundation to pursue an actuarial career. The instructors, staff, and industry professionals involved are genuinely committed to increasing the number of diverse actuaries in the field of actuarial science. I encourage anyone interested in SAAMS to consider submitting an application. If you’re a STEM-focused student, this might just be the career for you.