Mason Aims to Increase Minority Population of STEM Grads

Posted: September 24, 2007 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Dave Andrews

Long gone are the days of the “geeky” personification of science and technology majors. Now that job recruiters are seeking more and more graduates in these fields, they are a hot ticket. But school administrators and employers would like a more diverse graduating class.

Mason recently became a part of a cooperative program among eight colleges and universities throughout Virginia and North Carolina that will focus on increasing the number of students from underrepresented groups pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics — the so-called “STEM” fields.

The initiative, named the Virginia-North Carolina Alliance for Minority Participation (VA-NC AMP), is supported by a five-year, $5 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

“Our primary goal is to double the average number of students from underrepresented minority populations graduating in the STEM fields,” says Bernard White, associate dean of undergraduate studies in the Volgenau School of Information Technology and Engineering, and the initiative’s principal investigator for Mason. “We want to have a good support system in place for these students and make sure that they take advantage of all the available resources and opportunities.”

Mason is one of eight schools involved in the VA-NC AMP, which is led by the University of Virginia. Other members of the coalition from Virginia are Virginia Commonwealth University and Virginia Tech. From North Carolina, participating schools are Bennett College, Elizabeth City State University, Johnson C. Smith University and St. Augustine’s College.

The grant enables these schools to focus more on recruiting and retention, as well as enhancing student activities. Alliance-sponsored activities will include research workshops, internships and faculty or peer mentoring. If the program proves successful, the alliance will be eligible for a second five-year initiative to target graduate students.

“I am 100 percent confident that we can be successful in this initiative,” White says. “I’ve always been successful in my goals, and if we get commitments from the students and keep them engaged, I firmly believe we’ll reach our goal of doubling the number of underrepresented minority students receiving STEM degrees.”

The initiative is sponsored by the NSF’s Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP). According to James Hicks, LSAMP program director, the main long-term goal is to bridge the gap for minority students to go on to earn doctorates and become professionals in STEM fields.

Since 1991, LSAMP has created 35 similar alliances across the country, involving more than 475 campuses and 250,000 graduates in STEM fields.

“The program has had tremendous success over the years,” Hicks says. “My phone has been ringing off the hook from people praising the program and the significant impact it’s had on their campus.”

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