The Jean C. Tempel Professor of Chemistry is changing the face of STEM

Marc Zimmer

People of color, women and persons with disabilities are largely underrepresented in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Marc Zimmer, the Jean C. Tempel ’65 Professor of Chemistry at Conn, is on a mission to reverse the statistics.

Zimmer, who grew up in South Africa during apartheid, has worked for decades to broaden access and interest in STEM fields, visiting inner-city schools to talk to students about pursuing the sciences, bringing high school students with an affinity for science to campus to participate in his research, and even employing a menagerie of glowing mice, fish and axolotls to wow elementary students with the wonders of scientific possibility.

The interest was there, Zimmer realized, but a variety of factors prevented underrepresented students from actually graduating and pursuing careers in STEM fields. So in 2007, armed with a grant from the National Science Foundation, Zimmer launched Science Leaders, a program he designed to address some of the biggest roadblocks.

Through the program, Science Leaders receive ample opportunities for applied research, intensive one-on-one faculty and peer mentoring, career counseling, and assistance applying to graduate school. Upon acceptance to Conn, students enter the program with a cohort of fellow first-year peers, who all share a common faculty adviser and first-year seminar that culminates in hands-on research.

“This approach creates a supportive network of science professionals, graduate students and undergraduates that grows and strengthens organically,” Zimmer said.

The program has been wildly successful. Since its launch, more than 200 students of color, women and students with disabilities have matriculated to Conn as Science Leaders. The first eight cohorts boast a six-year graduation rate of 91 percent—a full 8 percent higher than their non–Science Leader peers—and members have gone on to earn a total of six medical degrees, one doctorate, eight master’s degrees in STEM fields and six other graduate degrees. Recently, Science Leaders was recognized with an Inspiring Programs in STEM Award from INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine.

 

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