NSF Awards Minority Graduate Education Grants

October 29, 1998

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is awarding eight universities nearly $2.5-million each to significantly increase the number of African American, Hispanic and Native American students receiving doctoral degrees in the sciences, mathematics and engineering (SME).

These institutions are the first to participate in five-year cooperative agreements with NSF in its newly established Minority Graduate Education (MGE) program.

This first group of MGE institutions to receive awards includes: University of Puerto Rico; Howard University; University of Missouri-Columbia; University of Alabama-Birmingham; Georgia Institute of Technology; University of Michigan; Rice University; and University of Florida. Howard University is a historically black university and the University of Puerto Rico is a Hispanic-serving institution.

Each institution will receive awards of up to $500,000 per year depending on numbers of students served and factors related to project design. The awards focus on changes in institutional, departmental, and organizational culture, and on practices that will result in significant increases in recruitment, retention, degree conferral and career (especially academic) entry.

"Perhaps most important of all, these grants will help redress the serious lack of role models and mentors among higher education faculty, which, research has shown, constitutes a real impediment to producing minority SME graduates," said Luther S. Williams, NSF's director of education and human resources. "There is a strong but often unconscious cultural message absorbed by the nation's minority youth by virtue of the too-rare presence of minorities in the SME workforce. NSF can help correct this unnecessary and destructive context, with the benefit to be reaped by the entire country," he explained.

The funded research seeks to explain the factors underlying success at critical transition points--from undergraduate through graduate study--needed to develop a sustainable entry into the SME workforce. Specifically, the objectives are to: (1) develop and implement innovative models for recruiting, mentoring and retaining minority students in SME doctoral programs and (2) develop effective strategies for identifying and supporting under-represented minorities who want to pursue academic careers.

The MGE program was developed in response to ongoing U.S. congressional concerns about trends in the nation's education and development of minorities in science, mathematics and engineering fields. It was also created to fulfill NSF's continuing commitment to minority graduate education.

An additional three-year, $150,000 award is going to the American Association for the Advancement of Science to study and evaluate factors that affect minority under-representation. Both federal and private institutions have invested significant resources to increase minority representation in advanced SME study and careers. Some exemplary programs exist, but there has been limited progress overall.

"Industry, government and academia all suffer from a long-standing under-utilization of minorities in the sciences, mathematics and engineering, due to the small pool of minority talent holding Ph.Ds.," said MGE coordinator Jesse Lewis. "This failure to prepare and develop SME capability in such a large segment of the U.S. population is wasteful of precious human capital resources and has serious consequences for the nation's ability to compete in a world economy driven by technological advances. The nation's citizens also suffer loss of opportunity."
Media contact: Lee Herring (703) 306-1070/kherring@nsf.gov Program contact: Jesse Lewis (703) 306-1634/jlewis@nsf.gov

National Science Foundation

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