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Four universities from New York and Puerto Rico form innovative alliance to encourage minority students to pursue Ph.D. studies in science, mathematics and engineering
Four universities from New York and Puerto Ricoform innovative alliance to encourage minority studentsto pursue Ph.D. studies in science, mathematics and engineeringNovember 06, 2002Kevin Morrowkdmorrow@syr.edu
As society becomes more technologically advanced, the demand increases for college graduates with specialized knowledge and professional credentials. At the same time, America is becoming ever more diverse. Yet the percentage of African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans earning advanced college degrees in the fields of science, mathematics and engineering remains notably low.
Projections of the next 20 years predict that these three groups will comprise half of the U.S. population, and minorities will become the majority of the college-age (18-24 years old) population-and the largest source of new workers.
The future of the scientific enterprise rests with master’s and doctoral degree-holding minority instructors, researchers and practitioners. And American colleges and universities face an immense challenge in identifying, nurturing and training these individuals-tomorrow’s scientific leaders.
Four educational institutions-Syracuse University, Cornell University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez-are stepping up to meet the challenge, forming an innovative alliance to make graduate study in science, mathematics and engineering more available to traditionally underrepresented populations.
The Central New York to Puerto Rico-Mayaguez (CNY-PR) Alliance represents a $5 million commitment-including $2.5 million from the National Science Foundation.
Each of the four alliance institutions has substantial experience in minority education and achievement. Alliance organizers believe that by working together it will be possible to leverage and build upon their current programs to achieve greater success in generating minority Ph.D. recipients than could be achieved by the institutions working individually. What’s more, they envision the alliance model being adopted by other colleges and universities across the country, encouraging the formation of other diverse alliances.
“Our nation needs more scientists, mathematicians and engineers to remain competitive in the world economy. Part of the supply problem is the relatively low percentage of people of color who go into these fields,” says SU Chancellor Kenneth A. Shaw. “Syracuse University is proud to be part of a group of universities committed to dealing with this problem.”
“The CNY-PR Alliance brings a unique approach in which the campuses of four different schools merge into a common place,” says Chancellor Jorge I. Velez-Arocho of the University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez. “The alliance will facilitate an enriching and multicultural environment of full openness and mentorship to underrepresented students with the endeavor of producing the faculty, the professionals and the leaders of the future of the U.S. and of Puerto Rico.”
Of particular concern is the lack of diversity in the professoriate, says SU Executive Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Howard Johnson, the alliance project’s principal investigator.
“According to the most recent statistics, there are approximately 550,000 full-time faculty members at American colleges and universities. Of this number, only 4.8 percent are African American-and about half are employed at the slightly more than 100 Historically Black Colleges and Universities,” Johnson says. “Hispanics comprise approximately 2.3 percent, Asian Americans 4.7 percent and Native Americans 0.4 percent of the U.S. professoriate. Given that these groups collectively comprise upwards of 30 percent of the American people, the problem of underrepresentation is real.
“A culturally diverse faculty is essential for creating the type of educational environment needed to prepare students for citizenship in a multicultural America and the global community,” Johnson says. “This requirement can only be achieved on our campuses if we increase the production of doctoral degree recipients among racial and ethnic minorities, and prepare more of them for the professoriate.”
The ramifications for industry are also noted. “With companies like Carrier, Bristol-Myers and Lockheed Martin here in Central New York, having an enhanced pool of graduate-level scientists and engineers available for employment, especially those that may offer the ability to diversify the work force, will be a tremendous benefit,” says National Grid USA Chairman William E. Davis.
The CNY-PR Alliance will pursue the following six objectives:
- provide inter-institutional engaging research experiences for undergraduate and graduate students;
- review and recommend innovative measures and guidelines for graduate admission criteria;
- aggressively recruit and retain excellent minority students to the alliance institutions;
- provide multi-year funding packages for accepted minority graduate students;
- expand professoriate and mentor training programs to alliance institutions; and
- develop and implement continuous assessment tools to evaluate the alliance’s objectives.
Each component of the alliance program is designed to build on the previous one, creating a corridor of motivation, guidance and support through which the student moves from secondary school to a Ph.D. program to a successful career in academia or industry.
Multiple recruiting teams (composed of representatives from across the alliance) will be formed and will visit the Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic-serving institutions, tribal colleges and predominantly minority institutions, and targeted community colleges to inform students of summer research and graduate study opportunities at CNY-PR Alliance institutions. And the alliance institutions will be encouraged to provide travel expenses and invite the interested minority graduate applicants to campus.
To help smooth the transition from undergraduate study and to encourage minority students to participate in advanced degree programs, alliance institutions will offer special summer programs consisting of a faculty-mentored research experience and a seminar. The seminar will include preparation for GREs, job interviews and teaching experiences; development of a professional vita or resume; and guidance on selecting and applying for graduate school, internships and jobs.
Alliance institutions will rotate hosting duties for an annual symposium. Undergraduate and graduate students will be able to present their research experiences via oral or poster presentations and through the publishing of their work in the annual CNY-PR Symposium Proceeding will have a valuable publication opportunity. Participants will also learn about grants-in-aid, scholarships and other funding opportunities; how to access directories and process applications; how to prepare research presentations; and how to select and pursue a particular field of research.
Each institution will analyze its graduate admissions and faculty employment measures and guidelines. An admissions and fellowship committee will be asked to review, reconsider and revise the institution’s graduate student selection criteria and to formulate lucid goals for faculty hiring practices of minority applicants in science, mathematics and engineering.
Alliance institutions will also provide multi-year funding packages to a cohort of eligible participants to encourage and maintain underrepresented science-mathematics-engineering students’ participation in graduate study.
Along with proper financial support, mentoring is a key to these students’ success. Graduate students in the alliance program will participate in institution-specific and alliance-wide activities, events and mentoring relationships. Faculty and advanced graduate students will receive special training to enhance their skills for mentoring.
For Ph.D. students-whether they are moving toward careers in academia or industry-skills in communication, professional development, and research are essential, as are solid teaching skills for those interested in joining college faculty.
SU’s well-established Future Professoriate Project (with support from The Pew Charitable Trusts, the Fund for the Improvement of Post Secondary Education, and the Chancellor’s Fund for Innovation) will be updated to develop a comprehensive teaching skills development program for the alliance, and qualified Ph.D. candidates will be able to do summertime teaching at any of the alliance institutions, under the supervision of alliance faculty.
To help students develop their professional skills, a seminar will be created to address the topics of succeeding in academia, planning a career, using electronic resources, building a personal reference library, synthesizing research literature, writing and reviewing research proposals and journal submissions, preparing conference presentations, and managing intellectual property.
Students’ research skills will be developed through the traditional method of matching a student with a professor performing research in the student’s field; through the alliance’s annual research symposium; through institution-specific research seminars and other activities; and through the alliance institutions’ existing information technology tools that can be used for distance education classes and even virtual laboratories in which inter-institutional experiments can be performed.
In addition to building on the history of minority education efforts of its member institutions, the alliance will form partnerships with other universities, with student organizations such as the National Society of Black Engineers and the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, and with K-12 schools to increase the base of students from which to recruit, faculty that can be enlisted, and additional resources that can be drawn upon.
In evaluating the alliance’s effectiveness, both qualitative and quantitative measures will be used to assess student attainment and satisfaction, and institutional change. An annual report will be created and distributed to the NSF and the alliance institutions.
To ensure the alliance’s continuation beyond the initial five-year period of NSF funding and member institution cost sharing, the alliance organizers will seek additional funding opportunities from other governmental agencies and from industry.