Marcelo Salinas ’19 (pictured) fit right in with his incoming class of bright-eyed undergraduates pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM). With a passion for neuroscience and a gleaming academic record, his talent stood out in Rice’s highly competitive applicant pool.
But one factor was not obvious: coming from a high school with limited resources, Marcelo started his Rice career with fewer credits and less subject matter exposure than his STEM peers.
“At the start of last semester, Megan asked how I was doing. I answered, ‘I’m actually good.’ I knew how to study and how to manage my time. I knew it would be a hard semester, but I realized that I could do this and have fun along the way.”
— Marcelo Salinas ’19
STEM students in every incoming class face this challenge. Without additional support, nearly half of them will change to non-STEM majors. Since 2012, the Rice Emerging Scholars Program (RESP) has tackled this STEM retention issue by bridging the preparation gap. Each year, about 45 students who match RESP criteria take part in six weeks of rigorous classes and workshops the summer before their freshman year. The RESP staff then provides individualized advising for two years, while facilitating connections to hands-on research opportunities.
The results are clear. Among RESP participants, 86 percent graduate in a STEM major, compared to a rate of 40-50 percent for those who qualify but do not take part. Also, many RESP students are underrepresented minority, first-generation or low-income students. Their success strengthens a pipeline of diverse STEM graduates, which is a priority for a wide array of industries.
For Marcelo, accepting the invitation to RESP was the first step in shifting his view of what it would take to succeed at Rice.
“Honestly, I didn’t think I needed it,” he says. “But when I learned how much work I had ahead of me before I even started, I got scared. I was concerned that I had no idea what college would be like and that my expectations were wrong.”
Among RESP participants, 86 percent graduate in a STEM major, compared to a rate of 40-50 percent for those who qualify but do not take part.
The program’s rigorous schedule required that he adjust his approach. He struggled at times, but in the process gained new study skills and learned from upperclassmen who went through RESP themselves. “The biggest thing that I learned is that failure can actually lead to success,” Marcelo says.
The bioengineering major found success in the classroom and through a three-year research internship in the Core for Advanced MRI (CAMRI) lab at the Baylor College of Medicine. “Studying the brain is so compelling to me,” he says. “My lab experience has showed me that I could do this for the rest of my life.”
RESP Associate Director Megan McSpedon knows that working through challenges builds resilience. “In the summer, we throw them the hardest parts of freshman calculus, chemistry and physics,” she says. “They gain the knowledge to catch up with their peers and the skills to perform well in the Rice system.”
RESP enabled Marcelo to embrace the full Rice experience.
“At the start of last semester, Megan asked how I was doing,” he recounts. “I answered, ‘I’m actually good.’ I knew how to study and how to manage my time. I knew it would be a hard semester, but I realized that I could do this and have fun along the way.”
If you would like to support RESP, please contact Laura Welch Fitch, director of development, at 713-348-4617 or firstname.lastname@example.org.