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News On 

Volume 2
Number 3
July 2000

In this issue:

Minority Ph.D. Production in SME Fields: Distributing the Work?

Context and Attrition

An Interview with Dr.Mary Louise Soffa

A Profile of an AGEP Institution: University of Puerto Rico

From the editors

Managing Editor:Yolanda S. George
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 in the fields of science, mathematics, and engineering. It is available in print and electronic format. Inquiries, information related to AGEP, and all correspondence should be sent to the editor. 

A Profile of an AGEP Institution: 
University of Puerto Rico

By Brad Weiner, Dean of the College of Natural Sciences, Rio Piedras Campus, University of Puerto Rico

The University of Puerto Rico has a strong tradition of and commitment to providing an outstanding education and graduating well-prepared students. The University of Puerto Rico System (UPR), comprised of a total of eleven units--three graduate campuses and eight four-year colleges--is one of the premier Hispanic Serving Institutions. It produces more underrepresented minority Ph.D.s across all fields than any other institution in the nation. Serving as the baccalaureate-source institution for close to twenty percent of all science, mathematics, engineering and technology (SMET) doctoral degrees conferred to Hispanics nationwide, UPR is also a major source of minority Ph.D.s at other universities. Currently classified as a Doctoral University by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, UPR is committed to continuing to be a strong teaching institution and to becoming an outstanding Research University in the next two years. The University of Puerto Rico Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professorate (UPR-AGEP) is a five-year National Science Foundation funded project whose goal is to achieve at least a one-hundred percent increase in the total SMET Ph.D.s conferred at the Río Piedras and Mayaguez campuses of the University of Puerto Rico. 

The Ph.D. programs in the UPR-AGEP project--Chemistry, Biology, Chemical Physics, Civil Engineering, and Marine Sciences--determined that the primary factors responsible for low Ph.D. graduation rates were recruitment and retention. As a result, the AGEP program is designed to promote a systematic, proactive, and concerted institutional effort to recruit students and provide a coherent continuum of support not only to assist them in the initial transition into doctorate programs but also through the critical stages of the programs. The implementation of the AGEP project required a transformation in the organizational culture of our Ph.D. programs to provide special focus on student recruitment, student support, and the preparation of teaching assistants. 

UPR-AGEP includes the following components: 

Recruitment and Entry into Ph.D. Programs
Teams of faculty and students from each participating Ph.D. program visit institutions around the island to discuss with undergraduate students opportunities for doctoral studies and careers in the fields of science, mathematics, engineering, and technology. Faculty members also disseminate AGEP and program information at national conferences and visit universities with high concentrations of Hispanic students. Fifteen full fellowships that include funds for stipends, tuition, and travel are an important facet of the recruitment strategy, with travel funds also assisting in preparing students to be professionals. 

Facilitating Transition and Retention Bridging Seminars
All incoming graduate students participate in Summer Bridging Seminars and follow-up activities during their first year of studies. In the summer seminars students elaborate graduate study and career plans, visit research laboratories, and become familiar with basic academic services (e.g. library, computer center) and non- academic services (e.g. housing, cultural activities and information, sports, medical and counseling services). 

Graduate Student Peer-Mentors
To promote retention and enhance students' skills in those areas required of professionals, students who have completed their second year serve as peer-mentors. Peer-mentors learn effective mentoring strategies, are matched up on a one- one basis with incoming students, and assist them with issues ranging from juggling time and schedules to improving communication, reasoning, and study skills. Both the peer- mentors and new students have high praise for this facet of AGEP, pointing out that student-to-student communication is not threatening, that students are freer to communicate certain kinds of information or insights than faculty, and that peer-mentors gain experience, skills, and insights that will assist them in their careers. This component of the AGEP project is one of the most successful. Enhancing Teaching Assistant Training To improve and broaden the teaching skills of TAs and increase the number of Ph.D. students selecting careers in academia, students work with faculty members from the respective departments in an intensive two-week summer seminar. Faculty and students focus on new paradigms of teaching/learning, address issues related to developing, grading, and returning assignments in a timely manner, and practice formal and informal teaching/learning techniques. 

Increasing Scholarly Productivity 
During the academic year, second and third year graduate students participate in seminars and workshops designed to enhance their potential as professionals and members of the academic community. Workshops include such topics as developing and making scientific presentations, grantsmanship, and forming networks. Although UPR-AGEP has been in place only two years, the impact is clear, and two new graduate programs, Mathematics and Chemical Engineering, are being integrated into the project. Enrollment in graduate programs is up, but more importantly, the ratio of Ph.D. to master's degree students has increased. There is some evidence that students are fulfilling course and other requirements more quickly than students in the past, and the average number of Ph.D. graduates per year has increased from 13 to 20. AGEP supports the UPR tradition of being an outstanding teaching institution and assists in its transition to being an outstanding teaching and research institution. 


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