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ODASIS Works to Help Disadvantaged Students Succeed in Sciences

Rutgers Diversity Program Helps Undergraduates Pursue Science Careers
Rutgers ODASIS Rutgers ODASIS

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—The Rutgers Office for Diversity and Scholarship in the Sciences (ODASIS) began thirty years ago through the efforts of Dr. Francine Essien, a Black Rutgers biology professor.

She worked six or seven days a week, called students over winter break to encourage them, and was often the "anonymous donor" whose donations came in when money for books and stipends dwindled.

Essien would go on to win the  Carnegie Foundation’s U.S. Professor of the Year for Research and Doctoral Universities for her efforts.

Today, ODASIS has seven full-time staff members, including a developmental specialist for high school programs.

"Only 8.7% of doctors in the United States are Black, Latino, or Native American," reads the ODASIS website.  "The Office for Diversity and Academic Success in the Sciences at Rutgers University is helping to change that."

Over a thousand students have gone through the program, and hundreds have landed in the science fields they began pursuing as undergraduates at Rutgers and many go on to non-science fields, like business and education.

ODASIS runs many programs to support its students, and has been featured in a National Institutes of Health Listserv.

Access Med is one of its best-known programs. It begins with pre-Phase I, where students take general biology, general chemistry, English, and math while having access to tutoring, advising, and enrichment programs.

The next step is an MCAT preparation program. Finally, Phase II, which students may choose to do pursue over applying to other medical schools, is an admittance program to Rutgers-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School during juior year.

Students who are accepted to Access Med Phase II take medical school classes their senior year that count toward their undergraduate degrees as well.

Another successful program are the MCAT and DCAT prepatory courses that ODASIS students can take for university credit.

According to the website, they have "played a key role in the outstanding record of success of underrepresented students gaining acceptances into highly competitive medical/dental and other health professional schools."

ODASIS offers GRE preparation as well.

Finally, there is the Civic Engagement and Service Education Partnership, which combines academic study and community service by allowing students to provide supplemental instruction to New Brunswick high- and middle-schoolers.

Additionally, ODASIS runs programs for New Brunswick High School students.

There is also the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) Saturday Scholars Academy, which is a year-long program for juniors that includes classes, SAT prep, and guest speakers.

The other high school program is J&J Bridge to Employment, an international program aimed at high school students who are not planning to pursue a college degree.

Finally, there are dual credit opportunities and an English program for high schoolers through ODASIS.

Between 1990 and 2015, ODASIS has graduated 1,130 students. 442, or 39.1%, went on to puruse MD's.

The next biggest science-related career paths are osteopathy, with 6.7%, biomedical sciences, with 3.6%, and dentistry, with 2.6%. It should also be noted that 36.5% of those graduates chose to pursue non-science fields, like business or education.

There are some inspiring individual success stories. John Langowski, an assistant director of ODASIS, speaks of a high school dropout who got a full ride to Harvard Medical School, and an upcoming medical student who is being trained at a hospital at which he was once treated. 

ODASIS was initially fully funded by grants. Today, all of the full-time staff positions are funded directly from the university. Many program added costs are now covered by the university, as well.

The administration is very supportive, because, as Langowski says, "We're a lynchpin behind the success of Rutgers promoting diversity." 

Alumni also donate, to reflect their gratitude for the program.

ODASIS is an office that is truly involved with many other arms of Rutgers.

ODASIS works very closely with the Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) at Rutgers. 40-45% of ODASIS students are EOF as well.

"We're married to EOF," says Langowski. "[EOF director] Michelle Shostack is like a sister to us." ODASIS is present at EOF's five-week summer institute for incoming Rutgers freshmen.

The office also works closely with the Health Professions Office (HPO).  Elizabeth Vogel, the associate director of HPO, is on the Access Med committee. 

Another close relationship is with the Rutgers Learning Centers. Stacy Blackwell, the senior director, and Mary Ann Cancio, Director of Operations and Direct Academic Support, provide training sessions for ODASIS instructors.

They are also an "integral part" of the MCAT prep program. Langowski recalls them working with methods like Disciplinary Literacy to help students struggling with the verbal section of the MCAT, as it is very difficult to build those kinds of skills without a long-term educational base.

ODASIS works closely with the biology and chemistry departments, as it offers credit-bearing classes in those topics.

Finally, ODASIS has a partnership with the Cancer Institute of New Jersey. A reseracher there takes four ODASIS students each year for a two-year commitment to do cancer research.

"Throughout the last four years, ODASIS has been instrumental in my success as a pre medical student," says Manuel Sanchez-Gonalez, a recent ODASIS graduate:

The science curriculum here at Rutgers is renowned for being extremely difficult, and medical schools in the region are aware of that fact. ODASIS' tailored structure of supplemental instruction sessions, mock examinations, and study hours, along with the dedicated staff under the leadership of Dr. Kamal Khan, foster an environment of intellectual growth and discipline that sets the students in the program apart from the rest. For 30 years, their mission to promote success for underrepresented students in the health sciences has paved the way for thousands of students to pursue careers in medicine, and I am grateful to call myself one of those students who were accepted to medical school this past year. Without the tireless work ethic and dedication of everyone in the ODASIS office, I know I would not be where I am today.