UW–Madison wins MAGS Excellence and Innovation in Graduate Education Award for Bridge to the Chemistry Doctorate Program

Three people in business casual attire pose for a photo together.
Dr. Desiree Bates (left), a co-director of the UW–Madison Bridge to the Chemistry Doctorate Program, and Graduate School Associate Dean Marcy Carlson (right) accept the award at the Midwestern Associate of Graduate Schools (MAGS) annual meeting on April 4, 2024. Also pictured is MAGS Secretary Noelle Selkow, director of Illinois State University’s Graduate School, on behalf of the committee co-chairs for the MAGS Excellence and Innovation in Graduate Education Award. (Photo by Katie Bourassa.)

The Midwestern Association of Graduate Schools has recognized UW–Madison’s Bridge to the Chemistry Doctorate Program with the 2024 Excellence and Innovation in Graduate Education Award.

The Bridge to the Chemistry Doctorate Program provides opportunities for students who may not otherwise be accepted into a chemistry PhD program to earn a master’s degree while also gaining research experience and mentorship that prepares them to continue on to a PhD program in the field.

“The Bridge to the Chemistry Doctorate Program has been an innovative and effective exemplar on our campus focused on broadening access to graduate education for students from underrepresented backgrounds,” said Graduate School Dean William J. Karpus. “I am confident that this program will continue to enhance graduate education at UW–Madison for many years to come.”

Over the past eight years, the fraction of underrepresented minority students completing the Chemistry doctoral program has more than doubled from 6.7% of the 149 PhD graduates between 2016 and 2018 to 14.5% of the 188 PhD graduates between 2019 and 2022.

To the Bridge Program’s pride, the vast majority of its participants decide to stay at UW–Madison for the chemistry PhD program.

Dr. Desiree Bates
Dr. Desiree Bates, a co-director of the Bridge to the Chemistry Doctorate Program at UW–Madison

“In the past four years, the fellows in the Bridge program have been exemplary,” said Dr. Desiree Bates, one of the program’s founders and co-directors. “The fellows are looking for qualities within a graduate program that best fits their future goals. I am very honored that we have so many that have chosen UW­–Madison.”

Professor Robert Hamers said that since the Bridge program began, the department has also seen an increase in the number of students from underrepresented groups who go through the typical admissions process and enroll in the chemistry graduate program.

“It seems to be demonstrating that we have a welcoming climate for students, and that attracts everyone,” he said.

Hamers and Bates co-founded the Bridge Program and now direct it with Professor Sam Pazicni and additional help from a departmental steering committee. At the program’s outset, Hamers said the steering committee decided to take a holistic approach to reviewing applications, rather than relying too heavily on test scores like the GRE or students’ GPAs. Instead, they put more emphasis on life experiences and qualities that would lead students to be successful in graduate school. Since then, this holistic admissions method was adopted by the entire Chemistry department.

Bridge Program students have also made an impact on the department.

Professor Bob Hamers
Professor Bob Hamers, a co-director of the Bridge to the Chemistry Doctorate Program at UW–Madison

“The more senior Bridge students who came in have been really active in mentoring the younger Bridge students,” Hamers said. “This is a set of students who come from backgrounds that are different from what we have typically seen in the past, and so they have also mentored the faculty in things that we need to do differently in order to provide a welcoming environment in which all of these students can not only succeed, but where they can really thrive.”

Hamers said it’s been incredible to watch the Bridge students’ self-confidence increase through their time in the program. He added that the program’s first student are preparing to graduate with their PhDs this year.

“It’s been a wonderful program,” he said. “I’ve learned a great deal from the students, and I think many of the other faculty and staff have also learned a lot. It has helped to transformed the culture of our department in some pretty important ways that we really hadn’t anticipated at the beginning.”

The UW–Madison Department of Chemistry founded the Bridge Program in 2019 with support from the Graduate School, the College of Letters & Science, and the American Chemical Society. More recently, the program has gained strong industrial sponsors with support from P&G and PPG.

“I am so proud and thankful for all communities, organizations and individuals who came together to make this program not only happen but thrive,” Bates said. “Our students are the individuals trusting us to give them the tools for the next steps in their academic career. I am grateful for the department and university for giving us the chance to try a new program to expand access to graduate education. Over the years, I have had the delight of talking with our industrial partners and they have listened to our needs and helped. All these pieces come together to make a great program. I am very optimistic about the future of the program and cannot wait to meet our 2024 Bridge cohort.”

The Bridge Program is also a key part of the broader inclusion initiatives in the Department of Chemistry. The Chemistry Opportunities (CHOPs) program brings prospective students from a variety of backgrounds to campus for a weekend to explore the PhD program and learn tips for applying to graduate school. The Catalyst program provides peer mentorship for incoming students as they transition into graduate studies. Like the Bridge Program, industry partners are key in making the programs possible, with support from Dow Chemical Corporation and P&G for CHOPS and support from PPG for Catalyst.

Learn more about the Bridge to the Chemistry Doctorate Program.