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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. 

A Profile of an MGE Institution:
Rice University

By Jordan Konisky, Vice Provost for Research and Graduate Studies and Professor of Biochemistry and Cell Biology at Rice University

Can a small, department-based model of minority Ph.D. education be diffused across a whole university? Can it be replicated at a large public university?  Rice University, with an enrollment of approximately 650 graduate students in its Schools of Engineering and Natural Sciences, is small in comparison to most major research universities. Yet, Rice’s Department of Computational and Applied Mathematics (CAAM) has been a national leader in producing underrepresented minority Ph.D.s in mathematics. \

The Rice Minority Graduate Education (MGE) program builds on the successful CAAM model as developed over several years by Professor Richard Tapia, a nationally recognized leader in undergraduate and graduate education. The goal of the Rice MGE program, which we designate locally as the Diversity Graduate Program in Science and Engineering, is to diffuse the Tapia/CAAM model across Rice and to the College of Engineering of the University of Wisconsin, an institution which is ten times larger than Rice. Our goals are to both increase the production of minority Ph.D.s, and most importantly, to foster the development of future role models and leaders. 

A major function of the Rice/ Wisconsin MGE is to help each graduate program identify underrepresented minority students with a high potential for success in graduate work. MGE program personnel, including faculty and students, attend local, regional and national graduate fairs, professional meetings and other events looking for potential students. While the ultimate decision to accept a student resides with the department, the Rice MGE program actively advocates for students that we identify as matching well with program objectives. Students may apply for admission through either the MGE program or the department of interest.
 
In general, graduate departments seek students with a demonstrated aptitude for carrying out research, and, for the most part, use a traditional set of criteria that they believe is predictive: research experience, letters of recommendation and test scores. While there is general agreement that students with low scores will not succeed, we all know of students with moderate scores (50-70 percentile) who have completed their Ph.D. and gone on to productive professional careers at research universities, colleges, industry and government. In every case, these students have been dedicated and persistent, qualities that are not always obvious in application materials, especially for students with no research experiences. A major goal of the Rice MGE program is to gain a further understanding of a fuller range of predictors for success in graduate school and to ensure that each predictor is given appropriate weight in decision-making. 

Rice is within the purview of the Fifth United States Circuit Court of Appeals, and therefore all activities must fall within the constraints of “Hopwood.” In March 1996, the Court opinion in the case of Hopwood vs. Texas held that affirmative action programs in matters of higher education admissions are a violation of Federal law. In Texas, that ruling was subsequently extended in an opinion by State Attorney General Dan Morales to also encompass financial aid programs based on race. Our challenge has been to design a program that promotes minorities’ admission and support, yet remains within the confines of the law. Rice grants MGE fellowships based on the full range of predictors alluded to above plus a demonstration (through an essay and interview) of the fellows’ potential and commitment to promoting diversity both at Rice and throughout their careers. 
Every Rice MGE Fellow is guaranteed a three-year fellowship and tuition waiver. At the end of three years, support is shifted to departments, which is the traditional method of graduate support at Rice.  Thus, upon entering Rice, MGE students can count on stable funding for the duration of their Ph.D. studies. MGE students are also provided with travel funds to attend professional meetings, workshops and 
conferences.
 
Retention of minority students to the Ph.D. is another critical challenge that can be realized by creating a community that recognizes and values diversity and provides a supportive structure for students. At Rice, retention activities center around three interdepartmental faculty-led cluster groups: 1) Computer and Mathematical Sciences, 2) Bio- and Earth Sciences, and 3) Chemical and Physical Sciences. The College of Engineering at UW-Madison functions as a fourth. The cluster group provides each student with a social network and a support community. Thus, students are not left to fend for themselves as perhaps the only, or one of a few underrepresented minority students in a research group, but are part of a larger community of students with similar professional aspirations, and, perhaps, problems. 

MGE students share social events, study groups, professional development workshops, national professional meetings, and assist in the recruiting of students to the program. They also serve as mentors in the MGE summer undergraduate program and as role models to students who are less advanced in their graduate studies. MGE students also regularly tutor K-12 students.
 
Returning to my opening questions, the challenge will be to convince our colleagues that there is an untapped pool of talent that, given sufficient support, can take their rightful place as scientists and leaders. Our MGE program can and will show them the way. 
 

 

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