About the Bridge Program

The Fisk-Vanderbilt Master’s to PhD Bridge Program exists to improve the demographic representation in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields. Studies indicate that underrepresented minority (URM) students are more likely to use the master’s degrees as a stepping stone to the PhD. Hence, to increase the number of URM students engaged in PhD-level STEM research, a relationship between Fisk University, which is an accredited Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU), and Vanderbilt University was conceived.

The notion of the program was first put together by Dr. David Ernst (Vanderbilt University), Dr. Eugene Collins (Fisk University), and Dr. Arnold Burger (Fisk University) in 2002. When Dr. Ernst met and recruited Dr. Keivan Stassun for a faculty position at Vanderbilt they began to formalize the program and Dr. Stassun and Dr. Burger were named Co-Directors. The Fisk-Vanderbilt Master’s to PhD Bridge Program took its first student in September 2004. With extramural funding in place from NASA, NSF CAREER and IGERT programs along with generous support from both institutions, the program has grown in size and scope and by August 2015 we will have enrolled around 90 students.

Co-director Prof. Keivan Stassun speaks before the U.S. House of Representatives about the Bridge Program and broadening participation in the STEM-fields.

As of Spring 2015, we have produced 16 PhD graduates in Physics, Astronomy and Materials Science. Every student has acquired STEM-related employment prior to graduation. Among these early cohorts are the first African American female to graduate from the astronomy program at Yale and the first African American female astronomer to publish a first-author Nature article. We are now on track to produce 3-5 PhDs a year. Fisk is the number one producer of African American earned Master’s Degrees. With an 80% retention rate to the PhD and a 97% overall retention rate. The Fisk-Vanderbilt Bridge Program is contributing significantly to the STEM workforce and academe.

The productivity and accomplishments of our students is outstanding. They have published dozens of manuscripts, including the first astronomy paper in Nature with an African American female as first author. Our students have won competitive Ford Fellowships, NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, NASA Harriet Jenkins Fellowships, and NIH NRSA Predoctoral Awards among many other grants. They have presented their science all over the world and increased the national attention to our program model.

Tool Kit for Practitioners

Tools for our program are freely to the public (please visit Tool Kit for Practitioners). As a result of our effort and success we have done extensive consulting with other programs looking to replicate our success including serving as part of the Architect’s council that advises the APS Minority Bridge Program. We also have a Bridge Postdoctoral Program where post-docs are engaged in research but also have a portion of their time set aside for working with Bridge Students and contributing to program activities. For more information or a consultation please contact Executive Director, Dr. Dina Stroud, PhD at: dina.m.stroud@vanderbilt.edu.

Publications about the Bridge Program

Below are a few informative publications about the Bridge Program.

Article Description
Fisk-Vanderbilt Bridge Program research article

Published in the American Journal of Physics, 2011. Describes the program, its key precepts, mentoring strategies, and also includes the admissions interview protocol and rubric found in the Toolkit above.

Bridge Program Nature article on use of 'grit' in admissions

Bridge Program Nature article on use of ‘grit’ in admissions

Nature article on misuse of GRE scores in grad admissions

Published in Nature, 2014. Provides quantitative data from ETS demonstrating that GRE scores correlate strongly with gender and ethnicity, and argues that using GRE scores is therefore a major reason for the underrepresentation of women and minorities in STEM graduate programs.

CodeSwitch NPR Article An article by Steve Haruch for NPR’s CodeSwitch, a program on the Frontiers of Race, Culture, and Ethnicity about the Bridge Program.
Article at Diverse Issues in H.E. Article on the 2015-2016 Bridge Program expansion of the Tennessee Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (TLSAMP).