Bridging the Diversity Gap in Plant Science Internships

By Juliana S. Medeiros, PhD

Four research interns in stebbins gulch at the Holden Arboretum

On November 18th Dr. Juliana Medeiros was invited to make a presentation about the Holden Research Internship Program for The Morton Arboretum virtual workshop: Bridging the Diversity Gap in Plant Science Internships. This workshop represents the first steps in building a network of science-based institutions that provide research internships, with the goal of promoting and enhancing diversity in the STEM workforce.  

Since 2014 the Holden Arboretum Research Internship Program has been providing a hands-on experience working on real-world research problems and exploring a variety of career paths in plants & environmental science. Dr. Medeiros’ talk highlighted several aspects of our internships which promote diversity and inclusion in STEM, including having different types of internships serve different student populations with different needs, and a student-centered approach which is exemplified by this photo showing interns Emily Galloway, Madison Metzger, Rory Schiafo and Emma Dawson-Glass: we want our students to feel seen and appreciated for who they are as they have fun exploring the wide world of biology to find their own path and move forward in whatever direction they want to grow, with joyful support from their community. To effect this, we prioritize hiring students who lack research experience, we expose students to wide array of plant-related career paths, and wfoster a multigenerational learning community that includes Holden senior scientists as mentors but also near-peer mentoring within and across students at different career stages, and a chance to interact with members of the public from grade-school youth to senior volunteers. This ethos is placed front and center at the annual SEARCH Symposium, where interns make a poster presentation to an audience that includes scientists from Holden and local universities as well as Holden volunteersstudent families and members of the public, to share and celebrate in the joy of research.  

Other successful internship programs highlighted at the workshop also emphasized the value of near peer mentors, together with the imperative that organizations need to actively pursue a diverse student population and meet students where they are in terms of skills, resource availability and life goals. In addition to celebrating intern program successes, Dr. Medeiros and other participants in the workshop discussed different challenges to more diverse and inclusive internships faced by different types of institutionsParticularlycompared to colleges and universities, environmental non-profits like Holden are often located in remote locations without public transportation, and do not have established mechanisms to recruit diverse student populations, but can provide students broader representation of STEM career paths that include both academic and applied dimensions. There were also important discussions about how it’s not enough to recruit students from diverse backgrounds, but organizations also need to be prepared to support students, including those who don’t yet have a foundation of financial security, basic college skills, a sense of belonging in STEM or the self-esteem to effect their own success. Lastly, workshop attendees shone a light on potential solutions, especially focused on long-term institutional partnerships that can counterbalance intractable problems faced at different types of organizations. 

Juliana S. Medeiros, PhD
Plant Biologist
Holden Forests & Gardens

 Co-Chair American Rhododendron Society Rhododendron Research Network
Chair Research Committee of the American Rhododendron Society

Website: http://medeiroslab.com/