Thursday, May 16, 2013
Virginia Commonwealth University and three other Virginia research institutions are gaining an edge on recruiting and retaining more minority students in STEM and health care fields through their participation in the Virginia-North Carolina Alliance for Minority Participation.
An initial $5 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) helped launch the alliance in 2007 and with it stepped up efforts then underway to assist minority students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and health care fields at VCU, George Mason, Virginia Tech, the University of Virginia and four colleges in North Carolina.
The alliance’s growing success led the NSF earlier this academic year to renew the Louis Stokes Alliance grant with a total award of $3.5 million for another five years. With the funds, the alliance has set its goal on increasing STEM minority enrollments and graduation rates by 60 percent through 2017. It also intends to surpass the national average of under-represented minority students entering STEM graduate degree programs by 20 percent.
Such goals, once viewed skeptically, are no longer unattainable given the alliance’s record. Consider:
- STEM enrollments have increased 39 percent from approximately 3,500 students at alliance institutions in 2007 to nearly 5,000 minority students in 2012.
- And STEM graduation rates have grown by 67 percent – or from 488 to 3,101 minority students – from 2007 to 2012 at alliance schools.
"Recruiting, retaining and graduating a diverse and high-achieving student body with a special focus on STEM disciplines are top priorities for VCU," said VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D. "The work of the Virginia-North Carolina Alliance for Minority Participation is a crucial part of helping us accomplish our Five-Year Diversity Plan objectives to 'identify academic and social support strategies to assistant students with persistence and graduation from the university.'"
The alliance, made up of public, private and historically black colleges, is expanding its membership with the recent inclusion of Piedmont Virginia Community College in Charlottesville – the first two-year school to join the group, said Marcus L. Martin, M.D., an emergency medicine physician at U.Va.’s Medical Center and the alliance’s principal investigator.
“The alliance’s second phase focuses on institutionalizing our efforts at increasing minority participation in STEM majors,” said Rosalyn Hobson Hargraves, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering in the VCU School of Engineering. “This way, the alliance’s work will become part of VCU’s culture and will bring our STEM recruitment and retention through summer transition activities, peer mentoring and living and learning communities into the fabric of the university.”
“To echo our theme this year,” Martin noted in his address to students and faculty attending the alliance’s annual research symposium hosted Monday by VCU, “I am eager to see our students become tomorrow’s leaders and innovators due to the research they conduct today.”
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