Wayne State University

$1.7 million NIH grant will help Wayne State University researchers prepare girls to study health-related disciplines in college

Detroit - Wayne State University faculty are collaborating on a federally funded effort to minimize health disparities nationwide by increasing the number of local high school girls, particularly those of color, who enter college prepared to study health-related science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines.

Leading that effort is Sally K. Roberts, Ed.D., assistant professor of mathematics education in the College of Education, who recently received a $1.7 million, five-year grant from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities of the National Institutes of Health. She is planning a three-pronged approach that aims to increase the interest of metropolitan Detroit area girls in health-related STEM disciplines.

The intervention will comprise summer academies; academic year cafes for girls and parents; and continuous mentoring support by WSU undergraduate women students through social networking sites and other technology.

Roberts, faculty adviser for WSU’s Gaining Options-Girls Investigate Real Life (GO-GIRL) program, has developed an intervention that will draw seventh-grade participants from that initiative. Organizers say GO-GIRL, originally funded through a grant from the National Science Foundation, has enriched the academic experiences of more than 600 adolescent girls since the first class completed the program in 2002.

Last semester, girls from 57 middle schools and 22 communities in metropolitan Detroit took part in GO-GIRL. Though demographics vary from year to year, most of the girls are African-American.

The goal of the intervention is to increase and sustain engagement of girls in STEM disciplines; build capacity to pursue those disciplines by increasing girls’ and parents’ knowledge of the personal academic skills necessary for college admission in health-related STEM fields; and provide continuity throughout high school by connecting girls to role models and mentors in health-related STEM disciplines.

“Our proposed intervention moves beyond engagement and motivation and includes a systematic plan to provide continuity to college for adolescent girls and parents,” Roberts said. “GO-GIRL is much more than a one-time intervention program; it is a community that provides support for parents and their daughters as they prepare for college and beyond.”

Additionally, she said, researchers will capitalize on girls’ interest in social networking and technology to build peer support, as well as mentoring and social support from undergraduates, to sustain momentum during the academic year that follows.

The program is important, Roberts said, because members of disadvantaged social groups — such as racial and ethnic minorities, women, the poor, and other groups who frequently face discrimination — continue to experience substandard health or greater health risks than more advantaged social groups.

“The representation of diverse populations in health-related STEM disciplines, health professions and policy-making positions is critical to the nation’s ability to eliminate disparities in the quality and availability of health care for underserved populations,” she said.

Stephanie Brock, Ph.D., professor of chemistry, and Monica Brockmeyer, Ph.D., interim associate provost for student success and associate professor and interim chair of computer science, are co-principal investigators on the project. Content experts include Lori Pile, Ph.D., assistant professor of biological sciences; Karen Myhr, Ph.D., assistant professor (research) of biological sciences; Chandan Reddy, Ph.D., assistant professor of computer science; Ratna Naik, Ph.D., professor and chair of physics and astronomy; Claude Pruneau, Ph.D., professor of physics and astronomy; Peter Hoffman, associate professor of physics and astronomy and director of the WSU biomedical physics program in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; Guangzhao Mao, Ph. D., professor of chemical engineering and materials science; Rhonda Conner-Warren, Ph.D., assistant professor of nursing; Noel Kulik, an instructor and doctoral degree candidate in public health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Regina Parnell Ph.D., assistant professor of occupational therapy; and Maria Pontes Ferreira Ph.D., assistant professor of nutrition and food science.


Wayne State University is one of the nation’s pre-eminent public research universities in an urban setting. Through its multidisciplinary approach to research and education, and its ongoing collaboration with government, industry and other institutions, the university seeks to enhance economic growth and improve the quality of life in the city of Detroit, state of Michigan and throughout the world. For more information about research at Wayne State University, visit http://www.research.wayne.edu.