Scholars Program Advances Diversity and the Field of Synthetic Biology

Achievement date: 

A new Scholars Program for undergraduate students in synthetic biology is bringing women, minorities, and people with disabilities into the lab for hands-on, mentored experiences aimed at inspiring careers in research and related fields. This initiative was launched as a pilot in 2014 by the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center (SynBERC), an NSF-funded center headquartered at the University of California (UC) at Berkeley, with 5 students selected to participate at UC-Berkeley and Arizona State University (a SynBERC-affiliated institution).


Women, persons with disabilities, and three racial/ethnic groups—African-Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans—are considered underrepresented in science and engineering because they constitute smaller percentages of science and engineering degree recipients and of employed scientists and engineers than they do of the general population.The SynBERC Scholars Program is designed to encourage greater diversity and participation of undergraduates from these underrepresented groupsin faculty labs across the ERC.


SynBERC brings together biologists, engineers, and human scientists from world-class institutions to produce the tools, techniques, and scientific understanding needed to design and construct a broad range of biological tools for health, energy, environment and, ultimately, human welfare. Educating a new cadre of synthetic biologists and biological engineers capable of designing biological parts and useful biological systems is an important part of SynBERC’s mission. Reaching out and including people who might not otherwise be engaged is good for the enterprise and those involved in it. SynBERC Scholars must bemembers of the underrepresented groups listed above and nominated by a SynBERC Principal Investigator or affiliate. The Scholars perform research during the school yearand attend one SynBERC retreat per year, where they present a poster of their research results. In addition, each student is paired with a graduate student who meets with them periodically to provide advice and mentorship.