Yourick Scholarship for Underserved Students Pursuing STEM Careers
Outreach, support, and scholarships played a crucial role in a successful Kalamazoo College experience for Deb Yourick ’80. As a first-generation college student and a female in the sciences, she experienced challenges firsthand that she has since seen play out for countless students in her professional role in science education.
Deb and her husband, Jeff Yourick ’79, both hold research roles in science fields and together have mentored dozens of K students, exposing them to jobs in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and giving them a glimpse at a possible future in science.
“This is really important to me,” Deb said. “I received scholarships just like the one we are creating, and without them I would not have been able to come to K. This is about making science accessible to as many people as possible.”
Deb adds, “I'm really excited to develop a scholarship for those students who may be underserved so they can have the opportunity to come to K with the kind of financial support they need. This is about helping them find their place.”
The Youricks see the need for improved scientist development and an opportunity to support the diversification of K’s student body. Their scholarship will support students pursuing STEM careers from underserved groups such as racial and ethnic minorities, students with disabilities, first-generation college students, low-income students, students in rural or frontier schools, and females in male-dominated fields.
Deb’s path to K was straightforward.
“Kalamazoo College came to my high school,” Deb said. “Having parents who did not go to college, I didn't have a lot of information about pursuing a college education. K reached out and was interested in me, and they told me about their program. I was an excellent student but didn't have any guidance at all. What K offered sounded great, so that’s where I went.”
Jeff had more guidance in his college decision, with a father who was involved in higher education, and knew he wanted a small liberal arts college.
“I was looking for the experience that you would get with smaller class sizes, smaller faculty to student ratios, and the more intimate atmosphere of a small college versus sitting in a lecture class with hundreds of people,” Jeff said.
Once on campus, both Deb and Jeff found their K-Plans to be truly formative. While Deb greatly enjoyed her study abroad experience in Caen, France, her Senior Integrated Project proved to be most pivotal.
“The SIP was a huge view to a future,” Deb said. “It’s life changing to actually see research for the first time. I’d never seen it. I didn’t understand it. You don’t get that from a classroom environment.”
For Jeff, who was inspired to study biology by a junior high school science teacher’s work testing mushroom extracts for anti-cancer properties in mice, his career service and SIP experiences ignited his interest in science and solidified his future career in research.
“Those two research experiences at K really reinforced my desire to go on in science and pursue a career in research,” Jeff said. “That was extremely transformative and defining as far as my future education and career path.”
Deb and Jeff met at K in 1978. He helped her navigate higher education, and she helped foster his interest in toxicology. Their time at K provided both of them with a view not only to their future careers, but to their future family.
Life After K
After graduating from K, Jeff and Deb both received Ph.D.s in pharmacology and toxicology at the University of Kansas before entering the workforce, building science careers in the Washington, D.C. area, and adding three daughters to their family.
Today, Jeff is the chief of the developmental reproductive toxicology and immunotoxicology branch in the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. He focuses on toxicology research and safety assessment of chemical contaminants in foods, dietary supplements, and cosmetics.
After years of combining neuropharmacology research with both science education and her institute’s management, Deb now serves as director of science education and fellowship programs at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. Her work has focused on discovering the problems underpinning lack of access to STEM and creating programs for improved access to experiential science especially for underserved students since 1991.
For about 20 years after leaving K, the Youricks maintained only a tenuous connection to K.
“We would give a little bit every year but we were kind of disconnected from K,” Deb said. In 2003, the Youricks heard that K was seeking alumni to host externships. They took this opportunity to re-engage with the College. Students would spend a couple of summer weeks staying with the Youricks and getting “porch time” with them.
“You just get to know the students, you take them to your workplace and talk on your commute. Over the years—I think this probably is some kind of a record—I would say we’ve had about 50 to 60 students,” Deb said. “They were part of my work, they’ve been part of Jeff’s work. We still connect with them to this day; they’re part of a mentorship process that continues for us. It’s an extraordinary way for them to get a look at science and what they can do.”
As Deb and Jeff’s involvement with K grew, Deb served twice on the Board of Trustees from 2009 to 2015 and 2016 to 2020. She also helped lead K’s Alumni Association Engagement Board, as vice president from 2016 to 2018 and president from 2018 to 2020. Deb and Jeff have also participated in alumni events in the D.C. area, in Hornet Huddles offering one-on-one or small group guidance to current K students, and in other career development events.
They see the Yourick Scholarship for Underserved Students Pursuing STEM Careers as a piece of the mentoring work they treasure and plan to continue.
“I’m sure we will continue our involvement in those types of activities, which is also really in line with our wishes for the scholarship,” Jeff said.
“K is a wonderful place to return to, and it’s a wonderful place to talk about with alumni here in the Washington area,” Deb said. “It’s so enriching to stay connected to the College and to be part of it all, to see it change and see it improve.”
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