We built the program on four pillars. First, we set high expectations for students, staff, faculty, and the institution. To participate in the program, students must aspire to careers in research. To support these aspirations, the program provides these students with financial support so that they do not need to work off-campus and can focus on studying. It also provides personal advising, involves family members who reinforce program goals, and engages students in community service.
Second, a strong sense of community lies at the heart of the program, because people persist and thrive when they feel as though they belong to something bigger than themselves. Students enter as a cohort of about 60 students. They live together on campus. We strongly encourage group work, so that students learn from one another and thrive together. We speak of the “Meyerhoff family.”
Third, we provide academic support for rigorous coursework that makes high-achieving students even stronger. The summer before freshman year, students participate in a “bridge program” that introduces them to one another and college life. The program encourages study groups and provides tutoring. Our faculty pull students into their research and we provide extensive research internships. This is a central program component: Engaging in scientific research enhances learning, promotes identification with the field, enables networking, and supports professional development.
Fourth, we built evaluation into the program from the very beginning to ensure that what we set out to do was actually happening. We collect data—both on the experiences of students in the program and on how their outcomes compare with those of similar groups of students—to help make the case to our campus and to the higher-education community more generally that the program has succeeded.
UMBC is now first among predominantly white institutions and second overall in the number of African Americans it educates who go on to earn NSE doctorates. We have educated more African American undergraduates who have gone on to earn the M.D.-Ph.D. than any other institution ever. Meyerhoff Scholars are more than five times as likely to have graduated from or be currently enrolled in a doctorate or M.D.-Ph.D. program than students who were invited to join the program but declined. More than 1,100 students have graduated from the program; nearly 500 have earned doctorates, M.D.s, or M.D.-Ph.D.s.; an additional 300 have earned master’s degrees; and another 300 are currently enrolled in graduate- or professional-degree programs.
In March 2018, the unimaginable happened when UMBC upset the University of Virginia in the first round of the 2018 NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Something else, once almost as unimaginable, could be observed at the tournament. With us in the crowd that weekend were four Duke University School of Medicine faculty members—all black men who are UMBC alumni. They all engage in cutting-edge research. One, for example, is working on the development of a pacemaker for the brain that may someday be used to treat conditions such as depression, autism, and schizophrenia.