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Research 
News On 
Minority Graduate 
Education 
(MGE)
Volume 2
Number 1
January 2000

In this issue:

Ph.D. Enrollment in Computer Science Up for the Third Straight Year

An Interview with Dr. Meera Chandrasekhar

Some Valuable Lessons Can Be Learned from the Strategies of Winning Football Coaches 

A Profile of an MGE Institution: 
Rice University

From the editors
 

Managing Editor:Yolanda S. George
Editor: 
Virginia Van Horne
Art Director:
Ann Williams
 

Making Strides is a free, quarterly (April, July, October, and January) research newsletter published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Directorate for Education and Human Resources Program. Its purpose is to share information about minority graduate education (MGE) in the fields of science, mathematics, and engineering. It is available in print and electronic format. Inquiries, information related to MGE, and all correspondence should be sent to the editor. 

Some Valuable Lessons Can Be Learned from the Strategies of Winning Football Coaches (And They Just May Work for ST&E Graduate Students Too!)

By Jay W. Dull, Interim Executive Director of the National Consortium for Graduate Degrees for Minorities in Engineering and Science, Inc. (GEM) and Human Resource Manager for the Ford Motor Company

We enter the new millennium with on-going dialogue about the lack of underrepresented minorities in almost every area of science, technology and engineering (ST&E). The number of minorities graduating each year with advanced degrees in science and engineering is disappointingly small. Almost four decades ago, affirmative action became the law of our land, to help assure equal opportunity for minorities and women. But, we enter a new century still wrestling with issues of “exclusion” and still seeking ways to increase the number of underrepresented minority students achieving ST&E degrees.

The Twentieth Century closed with Time Magazine proclaiming a scientist, Albert Einstein, as the person of the Century–the individual whose achievements had the most significant impact on our world. What his achievements and those of many others did to further science and technology, and to put our nation in a position of technical leadership, is remarkable. However, we enter this new century at risk of losing that technical leadership.  One reason is our continuing failure to optimize our most important resource–the minds and inquisitive spirit of talented young people. How can a nation, which expanded the boundaries of technology so rapidly and forcefully in the Twentieth Century now, find itself facing a potential shortage of the essential ST&E talent needed in this new century?

Senior government officials met last year in Washington, DC with representatives from twelve high-tech companies to discuss how the federal government and industry could work together to assure a strong ST&E workforce. They concluded that to help assure a strong ST&E workforce, our nation must expand opportunities for minorities, women and disabled persons. A subsequent meeting of people involved in ST&E minority educational programs generated the following recommendations: mount a public awareness campaign stressing the importance of math and science education; foster mentoring of students interested in ST&E careers; and, mount an attack on the underlying causes of the low representation of minorities, women and disabled persons in the ST&E workforce. If we could rapidly implement these recommendations, it certainly would help develop the talent we must have to continue our nation’s preeminence in science and technology. But such change does not come easily and unfortunately it does not come quickly. Efforts during the past four decades have resulted in only a modest increase in minority representation in the ST&E workforce.  While we work for systemic change, we would be well served to look for simple and quick ways to effect changes that could immediately enhance the educational process for current and future students.

During the past year I had the opportunity to travel to several college campuses to engage small groups of graduate (Ph.D.) students in discussions about their perception of the educational process, and to find out, from their perspective, what is working well and what is not. The comments of one student made a lasting impression on me. As he talked about what prompted him to pursue a Ph.D. program, he was exceptionally enthusiastic and pleased with the experience. He felt valued and he felt good about himself. He told me he was aggressively recruited in much the same manner that a star football player would have been recruited. University alumni had encouraged him to attend and pursue studies at their alma mater.  They encouraged him to visit the university and meet the people. When he visited the university, key people such as deans, faculty department heads and others, took time from their busy schedules to talk with him. He left the university with the impression that they really were interested in him and wanted him at their university. This student's comments started me thinking that perhaps there is something to be learned from the methods successful college football coaches use to attract and retain top talent. A bit of time spent talking with a university football coach could help us form some winning strategies to attract and retain more minority ST&E graduates.

Identifying and Recruiting Talent

Do you know of a successful football coach who doesn’t have a network of alumni constantly on the lookout for new talent? Why not harness the resources of alumni who completed their studies at your university, and make them your scouting staff? Think of the impact on a student when Dr. X calls and indicates that he/she has heard about the student's talent and abilities, and would like to talk with him/her about considering good old Alma Mater U. I know a similar approach certainly worked for one student I met, and I have to believe there are many more who would respond to the same type of personal touch. It does not take a million dollars or a lengthy study to implement this approach. Just do it!

To the Team–the Team– the Team! 

Think for a moment what changes may be possible if deans and university presidents adopted some of the strategies and tactics college coaches use and applied them to graduate studies programs. Coaches constantly stress that there is no room for individual heroes.  Everything is done for the team…the team… the team! I have been told that some academic communities are so divided by parochial interests that there is absolutely no sense of being an academic team–a group of people actually committed to the process of developing scholars and faculty for the future. Imagine the energy that could be focused on educating graduate students if we focused on developing a sense of team academe. Perhaps it is time to begin putting a higher premium and reward on faculty performance that contributes to academic teamwork and teaching. The perceptions that a number of Ph.D. students have shared with me over the past year suggest that at some universities the environment is so focused on research and fundraising that there is little or no time devoted to student development.

Care and Feeding

Every year millions of dollars are spent on tutorial services for student athletes. I am not suggesting that graduate students should have tutorial services made available to them.  However, several students told me it would have helped to have an officially sanctioned  “support group” to which they could turn to when things got rough. As one person put it,  “Just having someone to talk with and share experiences with would help”. How much effort would it take for faculty and administration to become proactive and to launch and fund a support group for graduate students? 

Millions of dollars also are spent each year on athletic training tables. I certainly am not suggesting we consider establishing a training table for graduate students. But if you stop and realize that the athletic training table not only provides nourishment, but also provides a sense of camaraderie for the team, why not adopt a similar approach for graduate students?  Establishing regular luncheons or dinners where students could share conversation and experiences and trade “academic war stories” may be an excellent team building tool. Yes, students do this informally, but think of the impact such a program might have if it were sanctioned and fully supported by the faculty and university administration. Not a million dollar solution, but a very low cost, affordable approach which sends a message to the students that we care!

While government officials, professional organizations, university administrations and others address the issue of how to implement systemic change and increase minority representation in the ST&E workforce, I believe there are simple things we can do to encourage young people currently in graduate programs to stay the course and complete their programs. I also believe that with some rather simple, but improved support mechanisms, we just might retain some of the promising students who begin graduate studies and do not complete the program. 

The struggle to implement systemic change that will significantly improve the number of minorities completing ST&E graduate programs is likely to involve more dialogue, more studies and yes, more political debate. While that struggle continues, let’s not overlook the obvious, simple, low-cost things that we can do NOW to improve the environment and educational process for current graduate students. If you haven’t recently talked with a group of graduate science and/or engineering students about the simple things which could be done to improve the educational process for them, I encourage you to do so. They have some excellent and very affordable ideas that could be quickly implemented to improve the process. Some very valuable lessons also can be learned from looking at the strategies winning college football coaches use, and similar strategies just may work to encourage more ST&E graduate students to seek and complete their graduate degrees.
 

 

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