Graduate & Professional School Channel
By Brian K. Johnson, Ed. D.
“Our medical system holds the promise of unlocking new cures, but it’s attached to a health care system that’s bankrupting families and business and our government. The sources of energy that power our economy are also endangering our planet. We confront threats to our security that seek to exploit the very openness that is – is essential to our prosperity…The key to meeting these challenges, to improving our health and well-being, to harnessing clean energy…will be reaffirming and strengthening America’s role as the world’s engine of scientific discovery and technological innovation….That is why education in math and science is so important”.
~Dr. Shirley M. Malcolm, head of education and human resources programs for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in her July 2012 presentation to the Annual President’s Peer Seminar of the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO).
Over the past quarter-of-a century, countless studies and reports have been generated that document the abysmally low number of minority males in college science, technology engineering, and mathematics (STEM) courses. In more recent years, these reports have been used to sound the alarm - to warn academicians, entrepreneurs and government officials that failing to use the very strength of America, its rich ethnic diversity, could be costly and a threat to our national security. If America is to regain its international position as a leader in education, then populations from underrepresented minority groups must be “at the table”, particularly in the STEM disciplines where technological and medical discovery will determine who the real players are in a fiercely competitive global marketplace.
The newly published landmark study by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), The Quest for Excellence: Supporting the Academic Success of Minority Males in STEM, offers an antidote to this dilemma. The Quest for Excellence exposes and addresses root causes of the historic absence of minority males in STEM; provides in-depth data analysis of present conditions; interprets the challenges and includes models associated with recruiting, retaining, and graduating minority males in STEM; identifies strategies to improve outcomes; and encourages APLU member institutions to address these complex issues. For the purpose of this document, STEM is defined as math, computer science, engineering, biological sciences, and physical sciences. A few examples of STEM majors include: agricultural sciences, biology, chemistry, physics, other physical sciences, mathematics, statistics, atmospheric sciences, earth and ocean sciences, aeronautical/astronautical engineering, chemical engineering, civil engineering, electrical engineering, industrial and manufacturing engineering, materials science engineering, mechanical engineering, etc.
What do we know about Minority Males enrolled in STEM? As the U.S. minority population grows, there is corresponding growth in the number of Hispanic, African American and Asians enrolled in undergraduate education. The profile on minority males in STEM and the trend analyses provided in The Quest for Excellence reveals that while there is an increase in the number of degrees granted, a gap still exists when comparing students of color to whites. The college enrollment and completion rates for women are on the incline, whereas the enrollment rates for men are on the decline across the board with the percentage of minority males in STEM being lowest of all. The characteristics of minority students in STEM are that they are intellectually bright with an average GPAs of 3.0 – 3.5. Half of them aspire to earn a doctorate in a STEM field and many took college preparatory classes or advance placement in high school. Many of them identified a teacher or professional in STEM as influencing their interest. They tend not to use campus support services, but they do use study groups. They generally come from low-income homes with educated parents (holding bachelor’s degrees or better).
The APLU APPROACH
In January 2012, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities embarked upon a commitment to engage APLU membership institutions “in a comprehensive dialogue on the subject of minority males in STEM with the ultimate aim of providing leading higher education institutions with the tools, information, and perspectives that will assist them in the practice in identifying, retaining, and graduating minority males in STEM fields”. APLU is America’s oldest higher education association comprised of public research associations, land-grant institutions, and state university systems. APLU established a Planning Task Force that met for approximately one year to help shape the case for the association’s Minority Male STEM Initiative (MMSI) which would seek to bridge the participation and opportunity gap in this area. The educational programs reviewed by an APLU Planning Task Force examined factors such as mentoring, financial support, and institutional interventions present in the stories of underrepresented males who had experienced success in STEM. It was a foregone conclusion based on sheer numbers that the nation’s growing need for professionals in the STEM disciplines would need to include more members from diverse racial backgrounds. At the end of the year-long planning process, the task force published an exhaustive report chock-full of data, analyses, and recommendations to “shape and guide” APLU’s longer-term Minority Male STEM Initiative.
In February 2012, APLU co-sponsored a day-long symposium with the American Association for the Advancement of Science and NASA where task force findings, “promising practices” and “lessons learned” were presented to an audience of thought leaders in the field. To further demonstrate the organization’s commitment, APLU sought and secured grants to continue the work required addressing this issue. Six months after releasing The Quest for Excellence, with major funding from The Kresge Foundation, APLU joined forces with the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) and provided four two-year $100,000 awards to universities that had effectively partnered with community colleges to improve access and success to minority males in STEM.
The following (taken from the APLU website) are the recipients of the partnership grants and descriptions of the programs for which they were awarded:
Alabama A&M and Lawson State Community College
Broadening minority male participation in the national STEM workforce by recruiting, retaining, mentoring and successfully graduating underrepresented minority (URM) male undergraduates is the goal of the partnership between Lawson State Community College (LSCC) and Alabama A&M University (AAMU). The partnership enhances academic support and improves retention of URM males participating in the LSCC 2-Pi STEM program by employing intrusive advising, providing peer-to-peer and peer-to-faculty engagement, and requiring students to participate in a STEM-related summer research experience, bi-weekly seminars, and supplemental instruction for STEM courses.
California State University, Fresno and State Center Community College District
GetAhead: A Framework for underrepresented minority student success in engineering and construction management is a joint effort between California State University, Fresno and the State Center Community College District and its four community college campuses. The project improves persistence and graduation rates among the underrepresented minority males by providing services and programs aimed at increasing student success. The project supports students by building partnerships between the students and peer mentors, providing students opportunities to work individually with faculty on research and projects in a structured mentor-mentee environment, developing a professional speaker series that helps connects students from all five campuses with successful engineering and construction management professionals.
University of Illinois at Chicago Minority Male STEM Initiative and City Colleges of Chicago
A Guaranteed Admission Transfer (GAT) program is key to the University of Illinois at Chicago’s (UIC) partnership with City Colleges of Chicago to offer CCC students the opportunity for guaranteed undergraduate admission to UIC after they complete their first two years of college. The program employs support activities that enhance the successful transfer of underrepresented minority (URM) male students in selected STEM disciplines. The partnership provides an orientation to the “culture of science,” along with financial assistance, academic support, research experiences and the creation of cohorts that move together through their undergraduate programs, and tracking these students beyond the funding period through their entire UIC career.
University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and Minneapolis Community and Technical College
The North Star STEM Alliance is a partnership of 16 Minnesota colleges and universities and two community organizations working to increase the number of underrepresented minority (URM) male graduates with bachelor’s degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The University of Minnesota-Twin Cities is the lead institution in the Alliance, an NSF-funded Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP). The partnership allows for the sharing of effective practices and leverages opportunities for URM male students. The Alliance fosters change toward greater diversity and inclusion, and the alignment of goals allows for the implementation of best practices in undergraduate research, cohorts and community building, faculty and peer mentoring, academic support and professional and career development.
SNAPSHOT OF AN EFFECTIVE MODEL: The Meyerhoff Scholars Program
Effective programs for increasing the success of minority males in STEM can be identified by three characteristics: 1) their ability to make decisions based on accurate student and institutional data, 2) the usefulness or utility of the program, and, 3) the ability to replicate the program elsewhere.
For the past 25 years the Meyerhoff Scholars Program at the University of Maryland Baltimore County has been a leader in supporting and graduating minority students in STEM. Since its inception the program has served 1000 students, currently has 300 students enrolled in graduate and professional programs and 700 alumni. The Meyerhoff Scholars Program has received praise from The New York Times, The College Board, and The National Science Foundation. Once of the differences with Meyerhoff is its selective admission process that accepts high achieving students by granting them full-financial support and moving them through the program as part of a highly collaborative cohort. They participate in a very structured six-week residential summer bridge program, and are continuously monitored by academic advisors and mentors throughout their undergraduate experience as long as they maintain a B average. Their extracurricular activities include paid internships, research projects and conferences in STEM and study abroad programs.
Governmental Involvement, Community College Pipeline, International Considerations
The need to increase the number of minorities in STEM education has been called “an issue of national competitiveness” by Texas Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson who proposed federal legislation – the “Broadening Participation in STEM Education Act” – an authorization enabling the National Science Foundation to award competitive grants to colleges and universities taking on this issue. According to Johnson, 22.1 percent of Latino students, 18.4 percent of African-American students and 18.8 percent of Native American students in STEM fields complete their degree within five years, versus 33 percent and 42 percent for White and Asian students, respectively.
The Community College Pipeline
According to a 2005 National Research Council study, "A larger percentage of students from some minority groups, notably Hispanics and American Indians, attend community colleges than White, African-American, and Asian students. In effect, community colleges have become an educational pipeline for under-represented minorities entering the higher education system." The same report notes that "20 percent of engineering degree holders began their academic careers starting in and earning at least 10 credits at community colleges. In addition, 40 percent of the recipients of engineering bachelor's and master's degrees in 1999 and 2000 attended community colleges at some time." (Enhancing the Community College Pathway to Engineering Careers, 2005).
Effective four-and-two year partnerships have the following goals and objectives:
To increase the recruitment, retention, and matriculation of underrepresented males in STEM disciplines at selected public universities by strengthening the community college pipeline with an ultimate goal of increasing the numbers of minority men who successfully earn a STEM baccalaureate degree. To strengthen existing collaborations between community colleges and four-year institutions to build and maintain a pipeline for underrepresented males in STEM disciplines. To create pathways and pipeline initiatives from community colleges, including collaboration with four-year schools on coursework design in areas like biology, life science and calculus.
At presidential leadership seminars across America, university presidents are being asked “What is your China? What is your India strategy?” With a billion people each, China and India look to the United States for solutions to their workforce training and educational needs. India has been particularly forward thinking in forming alliances with Historically Black Colleges and Universities and community colleges in the United States. Tuskegee University in Alabama, an HBCU internationally distinguished by its distinctive strengths in agriculture and business, recently signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) for transfer of technology in eco-friendly agri-based products.
Montgomery College in Maryland, the state’s largest and most diverse community college, with 6000 students enrolled in engineering alone, has signed an MOU with the Government of Haryana, India and plans to relocate several of India’s biotechnology companies to the college’s new million square foot biotechnology park and education center.
Researchers Bowman and Sage (2002) cite the need for STEM students to participate actively in scientific research to gain first-person knowledge of the conventions of science. Further, they say “immersion” in undergraduate research, including international research, serves as a means to prepare students for graduate programs in the sciences. The Fulbright Scholars Program’s Council for the International Exchange of Scholars is even more specific: “Preparing a diverse, globally-engaged scientific and technological workforce necessitates strengthening international research opportunities for students underrepresented in STEM fields. Senior-level alliances, having had the experience to build and institutionalize successful practices in STEM education, are required to incorporate a plan to engage STEM students in international research opportunities, specifically research experiences. The budget must clearly identify student support for international activities. International activities must reach beyond conference attendance and cultural experiences to be considered a competitive international research experience”.
Over the past decade, a number of pipeline programs primed for moving Hispanic and other minority males into STEM disciplines in the United States and internationally have been developed:
Hispanic Leadership Program in Agriculture and the Environment (HLAE): a program to increase the number of Hispanic leaders in governmental and non-governmental organizations, colleges and universities, and private industries related to agriculture and the environment. International Center for Nanotechnology & Advanced Materials (ICNAM): a center which organizes workshops in nanotechnology and materials science creates networks of researchers and promotes the participation of industry in Texas and Mexico. International Collaborations: University of Texas – San Antonio (UTSA) has agreements with universities in Mexico, Central and South America to offer additional STEM opportunities to students. For example, UTSA and the National Autonomous University of Honduras have an agreement to cooperate in research about water resources and water supply problems.
When asked how he conceptualized and ultimately carved his masterpiece David from a block of marble,Michelangelo’s reported response was “I chipped away all that was not David”. With its landmark study, A Quest for Excellence: Supporting the Academic Success of Minority Males in STEM, APLU has effectively begun to chip away at the marble of inequity in STEM education and has placed the issues relating to the paucity of minority male participation squarely in the center of a national dialogue between educators, business and industry, and governmental officials.
Deeper research and more grants will be needed to support institutions of higher education seeking to implement best practices, increase the recruitment, enrollment, retention, and graduation of these students and to strengthen APLU member institutions with community college partnerships and international collaborations – all toward the achievement of the goal of involving more minority males in STEM education. When it comes to increasing the number of successful minority males in STEM, the new tagline of Dow Chemical’s is apropos: “Solutionism is the new optimism…”