The Graduate School’s Diversity and Student Success recently program held its annual Summer Undergraduate Pipeline program, or SUP, a unique 10-week recruitment initiative designed to provide tools necessary for a successful transition into graduate education at UNC-Chapel Hill.
Program leadership works with undergraduate research programs at Carolina to create connections and to provide tools in order to recruit top undergraduate students as they consider graduate studies. The 2021 program, held online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, drew more than 200 undergraduate participants from around the country.
Danielle Rice, who will complete undergraduate studies at North Carolina A&T State University in biomechanical engineering and in biology in 2023, said the programming provided her with a wealth of connections and resources should she decide to pursue graduate school.
“I was undecided about graduate school,” Rice said. “I’m in this stage of better understanding—what am I going to do after undergrad?”
Rice heard about the SUP program from her advisor, who introduced her to Richard Superfine, the Taylor-Williams Distinguished Professor and chair of the Department of Applied Physical Sciences at Carolina.
“He said: ‘I want you to join SUP, and I promise you that it’s going to open your eyes,’” Rice said. “That was a blessing in disguise.”
As a first-generation student, the SUP has provided Rice with opportunities for networking and a better understanding of how to conduct research, among other benefits.
“I’m the first person in my family to experience all of this,” Rice said. “SUP really helped me pinpoint exactly what I’m going to graduate school for. … Definitely being a first-generation college student, I always felt like there are things that I should already know.”
Specifically, Rice said she found panelists of speakers, personal statement workshops, and hearing from current graduate students to be useful.
“Those conversations really helped me to open my eyes and say, okay, now I think I know exactly what I want to do.”
After she completes undergraduate studies, Rice hopes to pursue a biomedical engineering master’s degree program, such as the Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering, offered by UNC-Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University.
2019 SUP participant Siani Antoine ’20 decided to attend graduate school at Carolina, in part, because of the opportunities offered by the program. Contrary to Rice’s experience, Antoine realized she wanted to pursue avenues other than research—which she realized thanks to mentors from the program.
“It taught me that I didn’t want to do research,” Antoine said. “I knew I didn’t want to apply for my Ph.D., but I did want to do health-related work.”
Antoine is now a master’s degree student at the Gillings School of Global Public Health, where she studies the history of medicine in underrepresented, minority communities. She hopes to better understand how health care policies have evolved over time in order to provide insights as changes are made to dismantle systemic racism in health care.
“History influences our mindsets and our experiences,” Antoine said. “It’s so important to see representation in the spaces we’re in.”
Antoine, who is from Raleigh, said the SUP program also helped her sharpen professional skills, such as in writing, research, and presentation.
2021 Research Symposium
The SUP program culminated in its annual research symposium, which was held online on July 27. The research symposium featured undergraduate students and their research, which students have completed alongside a faculty member at UNC-Chapel Hill.
More than 20 campus partners participated in this year’s programming, many of which have scholars presented during the research symposium.
During the research symposium, Rice will present her recent findings on how specific proteins attach to the airways of lungs, which has implications for the study of cystic fibrosis, a debilitating pulmonary disease.
“I was able to jump in on Dr. Superfine’s research,” Rice said. “Before SUP I was timid, but it feels like I know how to make the transition as smooth as possible if I go to grad school.”
Suzanne Barbour, dean of The Graduate School, said that summer undergraduate programs often play pivotal roles in the career decisions of undergraduates.
“In essence, they allow undergraduates to function like graduate students for a summer, which can help students to decide whether they want to go to graduate school and the type of program they would like to pursue,” Barbour said. “The SUP program is particularly important because it makes our excellent research and graduate programs visible to the outstanding and diverse undergraduates who may one day be our graduate students.”
Diversity and Student Success leads several initiatives for the success of graduate students.
Recognizing the intersectionality of identity, DSS strives to promote inclusion and acceptance among graduate students.