Five questions with the Science Bound director

Alexis Campbell

Science Bound director Alexis Campbell. Submitted photo.

A Des Moines native and ISU alumna, Alexis Campbell discovered a passion for blending research with classroom experience during a National Science Foundation (NSF) research experience her sophomore year and never looked back. She went on to serve as an NSF Graduate STEM Fellow in K-12 Education, associate scientist and graduate faculty member in the Roy J. Carver department of biochemistry, biophysics and molecular biology and director for teaching-as-research projects at ISU. In 2017, she was named the first full-time director of the Science Bound program.

"I met amazing researchers who showed me that you can give back to people being in a lab," said Campbell, who came to ISU with plans to become a doctor. "Being able to mentor students while I was in the lab -- some of who were Science Bound students -- was very close to my heart. When I had the opportunity to be the director, it felt right."

Name: Alexis Campbell

Position: director, Science Bound

Education: B.S. in biology and Ph.D. in biochemistry, biophysics and molecular biology, both from Iowa State

Interested in volunteering? Email Science Bound

Who does Science Bound serve? 

We work with four Iowa school districts -- Des Moines, Denison, Marshalltown and Clarke -- to provide programming for students in grades 8-12 and their families. We have around 450 to 500 students across all grades and districts. At least 75% of our students are first-generation and even more would be considered low-income, so we start meeting with families in eighth grade to build trust and help them support their students along the way.

Science Bound started with a pilot program in the late 80s. Several of our founders were chemistry professors -- which is why we're housed in Gilman Hall. They partnered with faculty in the School of Education to create the program with the goal of encouraging students who historically are underrepresented to look at careers in education and ASTEM (agriculture, science, technology, engineering and math).

Pre-college Science Bound students can earn a full tuition scholarship to attend ISU. How many choose that option?

They have to meet requirements, like maintaining a 3.0 or higher GPA and attending our summer programs, to qualify for the scholarship, and the majority who earn it come to Iowa State. In the past three years, around 98% of our pre-college students went directly to college and approximately 70% of those students have come to Iowa State. We always hope they choose to come here, but first and foremost, we are a college prep program and the goal is simply that Science Bound scholars go to college.

What role do Science Bound alumni play in the program?

Science Bound alumni include students who complete the pre-college program and earn a scholarship to Iowa State but choose to go elsewhere, as well as those who ultimately come to Iowa State and graduate from here. When alumni come to Iowa State, we have opportunities for them to become program leaders who help host activities on campus and travel with us to the school districts. It's great to have college students and alumni stay involved with the pre-college scholars so these students can see what their future could look like. Science Bound alumni are role models for current students -- they motivate students and help them see the value of the program.

Who else do you rely on for support?

Corporate partners see the value of Science Bound and play a crucial role in supporting our mission. Students learn about potential career paths when we take them on field trips to businesses and they listen to speakers from various industries. Two of our districts -- Denison and Clarke -- became part of Science Bound because corporate partners came to us and said they wanted to do something to give back to the families who work for them. In those districts, the corporate partners fully fund the program.

There's a community of giving within industry and also an understanding that they need a diverse workforce -- and this is an opportunity to prepare students to be future candidates.

Why do you like your job?

The eighth graders in Science Bound when I started six years ago are in college now, and I've seen a whole life cycle of college graduates since becoming director. It's really important to build connections with students in this program, and you have these kinds of 'proud mom' moments when you get to see them grow and succeed. All along my own journey, I've had really great mentors, and that ability to be a mentor was part of what really attracted me to serve in this role.

One of the best parts of Science Bound is helping students find their fit in different fields. The other morning, I was at Gym-N-Eat, a cricket farm. The students were touring there and got to try roasted crickets and cricket bars. I don't know if anyone will go on to become a cricket farmer, but being able to explore all kinds of fields is exciting. And to see their faces when those experiences happen is so impactful.