Meeting people is an important part of going to college. But for a student who wants to pursue a career in science, hitting it off with a professor can be equally as important.

For Illinois State student Juandah Bruce, that connection was made much easier thanks to the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LS-AMP), which helps students from underrepresented backgrounds who want to pursue science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) careers.

LS-AMP matched Bruce up with Shawn Hitchcock, a professor in the Department of Chemistry. Bruce spent more than a year in Hitchcock’s lab, doing organic chemistry research.

Bruce, a senior biology major, wants to be a doctor. Medical school applications often require proof that the student has performed research as an undergraduate student. Bruce now has that—and much more.

“It’s kind of a privilege to say that you’ve done research with a professor,” said Bruce. “It’s just nice to have someone to talk to. Dr. Hitchcock is always there for me. He’s really supportive.”

LS-AMP is funded by the National Science Foundation, its goal to increase the number of underrepresented scholars earning degrees in STEM disciplines at Illinois State and other campuses. LS-AMP offers support programs and services, and it creates a community of supportive peers, mentors, staff, and faculty who help students reach their goals in STEM.

Hitchcock himself benefited from a research advisor when he was an undergraduate student. He wants that legacy to continue by helping students like Bruce launch their careers.

“Don’t get me wrong: There are many, many students from underrepresented groups who are entering into the sciences. But that number needs to increase. It needs to increase significantly,” he said.

Learn more about Bruce’s story in the video above.

Bob Tomaski can be reached at Ryan Denham can be reached at