Science Bound

A program committed to Iowa’s ethnically diverse students celebrates 25 years

In 1991, when less than one percent of Iowans identified as Black, American Indian, or Hispanic, a program was conceived at Iowa State to embrace a national focus on increasing diversity in agriculture, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (ASTEM) fields.

Twenty-five years later, Iowa’s demographics have shifted. The state’s minority student population is at an all-time high, and that program created in 1991 – Science Bound – has seen more than 100 ethnically diverse students from Iowa high schools graduate from Iowa State, with a majority obtaining degrees in ASTEM fields.

Science Bound works with schools in Des Moines, Marshalltown, and Denison to identify eighth-grade, ethnic minority students with a propensity toward math and science and asks them to make a five-year commitment. Students complete activities to equip them academically and empower them socially and culturally for an ASTEM college degree. Those who successfully complete the five-year Science Bound program earn a four-year tuition scholarship to study an ASTEM field at Iowa State.

By the time Science Bound students graduate high school and complete the five-year program, they have been on campus more than a dozen times. Ninety-eight percent of students who complete the five-year Science Bound program enroll in college immediately after high school. Almost 60% choose to attend Iowa State.

Science Bound’s support continues for those students who attend Iowa State, making the program a nine-year, long-haul effort. ISU Science Bound freshmen participate in a customized seminar, and students have access to private study spaces, mentoring programs, and academic resources.


A family’s path to higher education
Sergio (’10 mechanical engineering) and Maribel (’15 animal science) Piñon are two of three siblings in their family to complete the Science Bound program and attend Iowa State. Both recall visits to the Iowa State campus through Science Bound giving them a taste of the student experience and wide variety of majors.

Well before he began high school, Sergio knew that mechanical engineering was his desired career path. He’s seen that dream become a reality; he’s now a quality engineer at Quality Manufacturing in Urbandale.

Maribel’s path was a bit more unusual.

“One of the visits to ISU included a lab where we conducted a pig necropsy – a pig autopsy,” she said. “None of the other programs caught and held my attention like that one did. So it probably sounds morbid, but because of that lab I knew that I wanted to study something with anatomy and nutrition of animals. That’s how I found animal science.”

This fall, Maribel is continuing her education as she begins a master’s degree in animal systems management at the Purpan School of Engineering in Toulouse, France.

The siblings say that their degrees likely wouldn’t have been possible without Science Bound.

“If it weren’t for the scholarship, I probably wouldn’t have been able to go to college,” Sergio said. “I tried to be really involved with Science Bound at Iowa State because of that. I’m very grateful.”

“It helped us financially, but more than that it helped my parents know what to expect for my brother and me after my sister went through the program,” Maribel added. “Science Bound is like a big support system. We’ve been with the program from eighth grade through college; we established a really strong connection. We’re still supporting each other and cheering each other on.”

Skills for success
sciencebound_barrettBuilding up math and science skills through Science Bound programs proved invaluable for JaRae’ (Shelton) Barrett (’10 food science).

“I come from a family of foodies,” Barrett said. “I always loved food but didn’t know how to translate that to a career. Science Bound showed me that there was a food science major at Iowa State and helped me gain the necessary skills and explore what I wanted to do. I can’t thank them enough for that exposure.”

Barrett works as a food technologist at Ventura Foods in Saginaw, Texas. Her research and development, along with creative work, helps formulate mayonnaises, sauces, and dressings for a wide variety of clients.

sciencebound_creightonCameron Creighton (’06 industrial technology) also gives Science Bound credit for helping him find a career path that fit his interests.

Creighton works in Los Angeles as a product manager for the Toyota RAV4 SUV. His job includes product planning to create detailed specs for the vehicle – everything from paint color to wheel sizes. It’s his job to ensure that these details reflect the preferences and needs of the customer.

“Science Bound steered me toward a more technical degree, and I think that’s a good thing,” Creighton said. “I think it’s good to get more minorities into the technical fields, and Science Bound is really the reason that I ended up where I did.”

“Science Bound does literally everything in their power to give you the resources to excel in a math or science field. You were never alone,” Barrett said. “They give you the confidence boost to believe that you can do it, too.”


  • Science Bound is the only program in the state designed to prepare ethnically diverse Iowa students for careers in ASTEM fields.
  • Science Bound is a long-term student development program that asks 12-13 year olds to make a five-year commitment.
  • The program began with seed funding from Ames Lab and ISU in 1989-1990 and was fully launched with the receipt of a three-year National Science Foundation grant. Current funding comes from Iowa State University and area businesses, corporations, foundations, and individual sponsors.
  • 3,000+ The number of middle and high school students from Des Moines, Marshalltown, and Denison who have participated in Science Bound
  • More than 500 The number of high school students who have completed the five-year program and been offered tuition scholarships to ISU
  • 113 The number of Science Bound students who have graduated from ISU since 2000
  • 98% The percentage of Science Bound students who complete the five-year program and pursue post-secondary education
  • 55% The percentage of females who currently participate in the program
  • 62% The percentage of Hispanic/Latino students currently enrolled in the program (26% African American, 7% two or more races, 3% American Indian/Alaskan Native, 2% Hawaiian/Pacific Islander)
  • ISU graduates of the program are employed by Monsanto, Rockwell Collins, Wells Fargo, Principal Financial, Boeing, John Deere, and many other regional and national companies and institutions

— Coreen Robinson


This article was originally published in VISIONS magazine. To receive the full issue delivered to your mailbox four times per year, become a member of the ISU Alumni Association.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s