Jasmine George and Raechel McKinley Grow the SciPol Community with the HBCU College Tour

As part of NSPN’s commitment to expanding diversity and representation in science policy, co-leads Jasmine George and Raechel McKinley established the HBCU College Tour. This three-week bootcamp focused on engaging with HBCU-based STEM communities at colleges and universities and consisted of both introductory science policy webinars and hands-on professional development and mentoring related to pathways in science policy. NSPN caught up with Jasmine, who reflects on the 2021 HBCU College Tour that ran from March 15 - April 9.

The Historically Black College and University Science Policy Tour (HBCU SPCT) was created by myself and Raechel McKinley to introduce the field of science policy to students who may have not have had exposure and engagement with science policy professionals and science policy careers within the legislative fields, government agencies, and the private sector. We designed the tour to inspire students as we were motivated by our high school college tour experiences at North Carolina A&T State University. These tours gave us an opportunity to see ourselves at a University, and to know that we could succeed in areas of science, technology, and math.

We carried that transformative experience with us to design a three-week seminar series including the following: Seminars in Science Policy 101 given by Dr. Deborah Stine of the National Academies of Science; Congressional STEM Policy given by Dr. Crystal Grant, former legislative fellow for the office of Elizabeth Warren, and current Technology Fellow for the ACLU; Science Memo Writing gave by Adriana Bankston, CEO of the Journal of Science Policy and Governance; Op-ed Writing gave by Ms. Paige Greenwood, NSPN member and chapter lead for the University of Cincinnati; Resume and Branding in the science-policy space given by Dr. Chanel Matney, lead of the mentorship committee at NSPN and Program Manager for the National Academies of Science; and networking with a panel of science policy experts (Dr. Thomas Boddie, Ms. Karyn Onyeneho, MS, Dr. Alias Smith, and Dr. Marguerite Matthews).  Lastly, students were able to build professional relationships with science professionals through our mentorship mingle event. We actively searched for mentors who were African American so that the students, like us, could see themselves in this field.  We were able to provide over 20 distinguished African American mentors to assist our eager students. We aim to build relationships between HBCUs and the science-policy space, to open opportunities for students and staff alike, and for them to engage and flourish. One of our future goals is to open the opportunity to increase the number of HBCU-based NSPN chapters, to add more voices to the already diverse and exceptional space. 

My co-founder and I are former members of HBCU achievement programs. Raechel McKinley is a former RISE scholar and current NIH-HUIRC scholar, and I am a former iBLEND scholar and current RISE scholar. We found these resources invaluable to reaching current Undergraduate and Graduate students.  We reached out to achievement programs such as MARC, RISE, LSAMP, Robert McNair, etc. as well as the chairs of each STEM degree program for over 50 HBCUs. From these methods of outreach, we received responses from over 20 HBCUs and yielded 36 registrants in our inaugural class. During each webinar, we were able to connect with students from NC A&T State University, Norfolk State University, Howard University, Jackson State University, Meharry Medical College, Florida A&M, Morehouse School of Medicine, and Spelman College. During the tour, students were engaged through activities such as sending digital postcards to their legislators, practicing policy memos, and communicating a wide variety of science policy issues to the lay audience through the Op-Ed writing workshop and networking with policy experts. 

We conducted a pre/post survey for each webinar. For the majority of the students, this was their first outlook into the field of science policy. Also, the majority of the students found the Science Policy 101 activities the most helpful, some noting that they are very likely to attend activities like these in the future, and very likely to recommend these activities to a friend. Similar results were given for the resume workshop, networking panel, and mentorship activities where we were able to enlist the help of current and former AAAS STPF Fellows, and members of the science-policy teams from the National Institute of Health, private consulting LLC’s and the National Science Foundation. In the future, we hope to reach all 107 HBCUs to widen the scope of the voices represented, we hope to collaborate with fellowship programs such as AAAS STPF and The Christine Mirzayan S&T Fellowship programs to create pathways of knowledge for these fellowship opportunities, and finally, incorporate a Capitol Hill Day for HBCUs to further demonstrate how students can use their voice and their scientific knowledge to bring new perspectives to the legislators that represent them. 

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