PLTL is a unique program at Kentucky State University inspired by the work of Uri Treisman, a former UCLA professor in the 1970s. His model was effective in utilizing collaborative learning and small-group teaching methods for minority students. With the selection and oversight of faculty, Treisman created a trickle-down theory of education that proved itself successful. The faculty select the peer-leaders, and the peer-leaders teach the other students.

In recent years, Kentucky State University faced a similar problem with their STEM graduation and participation rates. Dr. Kazi Javed, associate professor of Chemistry, proposed KSU adopt a multi-disciplinarian approach to the well-regarded PLTL model. His goals were straightforward: raise STEM retention rates by 10-15% each year, and to ensure more underrepresented minorities obtain their degrees in STEM.

“We are an undergraduate institution, serving undergraduate B.S. in the STEM pipeline. Our first goal is to make sure they get their bachelor’s degree in STEM, which is NSF’s (National Science Foundation) mission. The second goal…is to get as many students as we can onto graduate school,” says Dr. Javed.

KSU’s PLTL program has without question, been a successful program, now in its fifth year. Graduation rates for PLTL students have soared to 86%, and participation has increased as well, with 31 students supported by Kentucky NSF EPSCoR this year, up from 20-25 in previous years.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity to be in a program like this,” says Jeremy Kimbrough, PLTL participant. “When you get tutored by your peers, it’s a different feeling…you can relate that to the classroom.”

PLTL is funded in two ways. One is via is LSAMP—Kentucky – West Virginia Louis-Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation—a consortium of colleges and universities working together to create, enhance, and expand programs designed to broaden participation and increase the quality and quantity of students from underrepresented populations who receive degrees in STEM disciplines. The other is from Kentucky NSF EPSCoR, which provides funding support for scientists, educators, and companies across the commonwealth. This funding creates opportunities for students who may not have had opportunities otherwise.

“I cannot express how great of a program PLTL is,” says Amber Persons, another PLTL participant. “You have the money incentive, but for me the best part is having a group of people to study with every week…it really helps.”

Another great opportunity for PLTL students comes in the form of summer research. Each year, 8-10 students join EPSCoR-supported research teams at UK, UofL, and WKU, to pursue a practical enhanced experience in the lab. Students are selected for their aptitude, academic interest, and graduate school ambition. They can then present their work at conferences like KY Academy of Science, NCUR, Posters at the Capitol, and KY EPSCoR’s Super Collider.

Says Dr. Javed, “Research shows over and over students who do summer research will have a much higher chance of going onto graduate school. We, at Kentucky State University, do not have STEM area summer research…that’s where UK comes in.”

These students—for Dr. Javed, for KSU, and for the state of Kentucky—are future researchers, leaders, and innovators who have been given a chance to shine in the PLTL program. Says Dr. Javed, “We don’t have a high number of published papers…we don’t have the infrastructure for that. However, we do have roughly around 25 EPSCoR-funded students each semester using the PLTL criteria.”

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