Bridging campuses, increasing opportunities in STEM

Nov 18, 2021

A new, multi-institutional MS-to-PhD program will help strengthen collaboration between Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh campuses and expand access to graduate education in the growing fields of artificial intelligence, robotics, and neural engineering.

The two-year BRIDGE Program, recently funded by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), will actively recruit individuals currently underrepresented in STEM fields. It will provide a hands-on research experience and target individuals who have not had similar research opportunities at their undergraduate institutions.

“The research is the focus of this program,” said Gelsy Torres-Oviedo, associate professor of bioengineering at Pitt and principal investigator on the grant. “The BRIDGE Program willprepare students to compete for PhD positions at top-tier research institutions.”

In addition to the rigorous curriculum and research, students will participate in a summer internship at one of nine participating national laboratories — an experience that the program leaders hope will generate a pipeline of talent into these labs and the private sector.

“The global economy relies heavily on highly qualified personnel (HQP) having advanced degrees in science and engineering (S&E)”, said Douglas Weber, professor of mechanical engineering and neuroscience at Carnegie Mellon and co-PI on the grant. “For the US to remain competitive, especially in rapidly developing sectors like robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), autonomous systems, and neural engineering, participation in research-intensive graduate education must be expanded.”

The program will leverage the complementary strengths of both universities and utilize established resources like the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition (CNBC).

“CMU and Pitt share a long and enviable history of providing graduate students with research and training opportunities that span both campuses, leveraging the unique strengths of each. The BRIDGE program builds on this history to expand access to graduate training opportunities in these high-demand areas,” said Weber.

While similar MS-to-PhD programs exist across the country, none are focused on engineering or neuroscience and actively recruit students underrepresented in STEM. Black and Hispanic individuals continue to earn a smaller proportion of degrees in STEM relative to their share of the U.S. population.

“I have been fortunate to attract talented engineers from Hispanic background into my research group, and it has been a privilege to facilitate their transition from skilled technicians to independent thinkers,” Torres-Oviedo said. “This program is aimed at supporting the intellectual growth and broadening the professional opportunities for many other students like them.“

Interested students can apply now. The first cohort will begin this program in the summer of 2022.

For more information about the BRIDGE program, visit:

BRIDGE is an acronym for Boosting Research-Experiences for Increasing Doctorate Graduates in Engineering.