​​​​​​​​Newswise — When David Stout applied for the California Pre-Doctoral Program as an undergraduate at Cal State Long Beach, it turned out to be the beginning of a journey that would lead him to a Ph.D. and a rare opportunity to develop a brand new academic department on campus.

For 28 years, the California Pre-Doctoral Program has been paving career paths for CSU students like Stout, who have expressed an interest in obtaining a Ph.D. but are in need of financial support and mentorship. The program provides students with scholarship funds and a faculty mentor for one year as they prepare to enter a doctoral program.

Students who are chosen for this award are designated Sally Casanova Scholars as a tribute to Dr. Sally Casanova, who launched the program in 1989.

Stout's mentor advised him to use the scholarship money for two things: to fund his doctoral research project and to visit campuses he might consider attending for his doctoral study.

"Having been able to travel to campuses and meet their faculty has made all the difference as I explored doctoral programs," said Stout. "I got into some of the programs because I was able to meet with faculty face-to-face, as opposed to being just another applicant on paper. They appreciated my effort and we were able to create a personal experience that they remembered as they looked at applications."

Coming Back to the CSU

Upon completing his Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering (BME) at Brown University, Stout's experience and degree earned him a faculty position at CSULB where he is responsible for starting a Biomedical Engineering department from the ground up.

"There were several faculty members that were delving into developing the BME program, but no one had experience in knowing what it's like to go actually through a BME Ph.D. program," said Stout. "They needed someone who could be the keystone of the department and my Ph.D. helped me fit the mold they were looking for."

Stout typifies the purpose of the California Pre-Doctoral Program. Designed to increase diversity within the pool of university faculty, the program supports the doctoral aspirations of CSU students with the goal of bringing them back to the CSU as faculty after completing their doctoral degrees. The highly competitive program has particular support for students who come from low-income and educationally-disadvantaged backgrounds.

Giving Underserved Students an Advantage

Que-Lam Huynh, an assistant professor at CSUN and former Sally Casanova scholar, credits the pre-doctoral program for opening doors for her that her family could not have opened otherwise. "I come from a low-income refugee family and a single mom," said Huynh. "My mom couldn't afford to pay for my college tuition, much less my pre-doctoral efforts.

"Through the pre-doctoral program, I was able to afford to present at three conferences and conduct an independent research project that I used as a pitch as a Ph.D. applicant. My application ended up holding more weight because I was able to manage lots of responsibilities associated with leading my own research project."

Huynh found her pre-doctoral year to be invaluable. She gained experience networking in professional settings and it prepared her for interviews at the doctoral level. "The pre-doctoral program provided me with professional development that you can't put a price tag on. I became a more developed Ph.D. applicant because of it."​

Faculty Mentors as Inspiration

For both Stout and Huynh, the mentoring they received during their pre-doctoral year would guide them in their careers and in life. Both scholars currently serve as faculty mentors for the pre-doctoral program at Cal State Long Beach and CSUN, respectively.

Cal State Long Beach's Dean Forouzan Golshani was Stout's mentor and the main reason why he decided to come back and teach at a CSU campus.

"I'm at CSULB today because faculty took initiative and time to work with me as an undergrad," said Stout. "I was given so much as a student and I want to do the same for others who don't think they're good enough to advance their education. I encourage students to keep pushing for a Ph.D. as I direct them to all the resources the CSU has to offer."

Huynh's pre-doctoral mentor, Cal State Long Beach's Dr. Chi-Ah Chun, is her inspiration today for how she works with students.

"I try to emulate what Dr. Chun did," said Huynh. "Her mentoring style – highly involved and supportive of our work while giving us a lot of independence and room to make mistakes – is what I practice now with my students. Like Dr. Chun, I encourage students to find out what they're good at and allow them to develop their goals while assisting them to stay on track."

The California Pre-Doctoral Program's combination of faculty mentoring and scholarship funds has proven effective in meeting its goal of diversifying the CSU's pool of faculty. Currently, about 400 faculty members throughout the university prepared for their Ph.D. program as Sally Casanova Scholars. The CSU continues to be a national leader in teacher preparation through various programs, partnerships and its focus on diversity.

For more information on the California Pre-Doctoral Program and Sally Casanova Scholars, visit: http://www.calstate.edu/predoc/about/.