Team Mentoring Program receives grant to support underrepresented students in STEM

Dr. Soon Li Teh, research assistant professor of horticulture at the WSU Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center, talks with TMP students about the research process and phases involved in developing new varieties of apples.

The Washington Research Foundation recently awarded the Team Mentoring Program (TMP) on the WSU Pullman campus a $208,500 grant over three years to continue its work of supporting underrepresented students pursuing degrees in STEM fields.

The funding will directly support the expansion of the program and the students it serves.

“We’re grateful not just for the fiscal support from WRF, but also for the fact that they see the necessity of this program,” said Lucila Loera, executive director of the Office for Access and Opportunity on the WSU Pullman campus who applied for the funding. “It’s aligned with their mission of helping underrepresented students in STEM fields get through the structural barriers they face.”

The WRF first awarded funding to TMP in 2016 and has renewed its support annually. This year’s larger, multi-year grant reflects the organization’s “growing commitment to investing in the next generation of diverse STEM professionals, helping WSU reach more students through the program,” WRF said in a press release. 

Expanding opportunities

TMP supports students from historically underrepresented backgrounds who are pursuing STEM and pre-health degrees by connecting them with peer and faculty mentors, providing scholarships, conducting field trips that let students see STEM professions in action, and plugging students into an engaged alumni network. The program, which started in 2007, has grown to include 385 mentees and over 40 faculty and student mentors in the 2022–23 academic year.

TMP director Samuel Rodriguez Flecha said the WRF funding will help him expand the program to include more mentees and more opportunities for learning and connection — all of which lead to greater retention and graduation rates.

“WRF’s commitment and partnership are a vital component to keep improving this program,” he said. “Whether that’s increasing our pool of faculty mentors or providing more experiences for students to grow their professional network, there are a lot of opportunities to continue enhancing our work.”

Rodriguez Flecha, who left the Office of Research to become TMP director earlier this year, has a long history of engaging in mentorship and said he views it as a way to create a culture of knowledge sharing. As a PhD student at WSU, he engaged in an “environment of apprenticeship” with his mentors as he explored underrepresented students’ motivations to both pursue studies in STEM and to decide on a career path. 

That passion for career exploration and development will be useful in expanding one of the key aspects of TMP: career development. TMP mentees have opportunities throughout the year to visit employers such as Boeing, Alaska Airlines, Allen Institute and Oregon Health and Science University to learn from professionals — including TMP alumni — about possible careers in a variety of fields.

“The field trips are great opportunities for students to expand their network and connections,” Loera said. “We want to make sure that after TMP students graduate from WSU they have doors open to them, whether that’s an internship, a job, or graduate education. This program is about creating those intentional networks and making those connections for students.”

In addition to field trips, Rodriguez Flecha said this round of WRF funding will be used to boost institutional support for TMP, streamline processes, enhance services to mentees, and improve how he assesses the program’s success. The overall goal, he said, is to create a positive, impactful, and successful WSU experience for both mentees and mentors.

“I’m excited about TMP’s opportunities to grow and continue to adapt with the times and demands and needs of our students,” Rodriguez Flecha said. “We’re here to be a support system, to help them establish relationships; to help them expand their horizons and be successful.”

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