Venter Institute’s Genomics Scholars Program
The founder of a program for science students wanted an evaluation of its effectiveness.
The J. Craig Venter Institute’s (JCVI) Genomics Scholars Program (GSP) is a 15-month science-focused program aimed at helping community college students make a successful transition to a four-year college. The GSP provides students with genomics-focused research experience, mentorship, field trips, professional development opportunities, and a stipend. JCVI wanted to know whether the program was working and how they might improve program activities.
NORC conducted an in-depth evaluation of JCVI’s student support program.
JCVI partnered with NORC at the University of Chicago to conduct a three-year evaluation of the GSP to provide insight into the program’s implementation and short-term outcomes using a qualitative approach. NORC conducted in-person, semi-structured interviews with all GSP scholars, a sample of mentors, and key program staff at baseline, mid-point, and program exit. The goal of these interviews was to capture timely, actionable feedback that would allow program staff to refine the program’s activities on an ongoing basis and monitor progress in achieving the program’s short-term outcomes.
The findings prompted refinements that improved the Genomics Scholars Program.
Over three years, the GSP evaluation identified several important successes, challenges, and concerns, which formed the basis of recommendations for improvement. Program staff used the NORC results and recommendations to refine the program’s activities. For example, based on findings and recommendations from the first year of implementation, GSP administrators redesigned aspects of the program’s summer research session as follows:
- incorporating more hands-on-training rather than theoretical lab readings during the first few weeks of the session to increase fellows’ engagement and maximize time spent in the laboratory working on research projects
- adding more formal and informal networking opportunities since fellows valued having more opportunities to learn what other scientists and fellows were working on
- providing more incentives for mentors to support fellows with professional development activities
Fellows reported several academic and professional benefits from the program, including:
- expanding their scientific knowledge and skills
- growing their academic and professional support network
- increasing their confidence in their scientific abilities
- boosting their preparedness to transfer to a four-year college
- raising their awareness and interest in scientific research as a career