Ethnic-minority recruitment focus of BSD committee
Just a year after its inception, the Biological Sciences Division's Graduate Minority Committee has already helped increase minority-group representation among graduate students in the BSD, reports Ursula Storb, Professor in Molecular Genetics & Cell Biology and chairman of the committee.
The Graduate Minority Committee was formed in February 1993 by faculty members in the basic sciences of the Biological Sciences Division, with the goal of increasing the number of students from underrepresented ethnic minority groups -- African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans -- in the biological sciences and to provide encouragement, advice and academic support to students once they are admitted.
"Last year, the faculty decided we had to do something to increase ethnic-minority recruitment, matriculation and graduation within the biological sciences," Storb said. "With help from programs sponsored by the National Institutes of Health and our own initiatives, we are slowly increasing the number of minority doctoral students in our programs."
The Graduate Minority Committee focuses on recruitment of talented underrepresented students by actively advertising in leading trade and education magazines, such as Science and Black Issues in Higher Education, and by sending faculty and student representatives to conferences and symposia sponsored by such associations as the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos & Native Americans in Science and the NIH-supported Minority Access to Research Careers program.
The recruiting efforts are proving to be effective, Storb said. Five ethnic-minority students entered the Ph.D. program in biological sciences this academic year, and applications from prospective doctoral students are up from 20 last year to 32 this year. Storb believes the numbers are promising. "While the number of minority students in the biological sciences is still far too low, it is a big increase from the past 10 years, when the new BSD graduate students included only two or fewer minority students in any given year," Storb said.
In addition to recruiting minority students, the committee offers continuing support services.
"We are absolutely prepared to support the students, both academically and personally, once they arrive here. Faculty members on the committee look after students in their departments, and the committee meets regularly to discuss the progress of all our minority graduate students," Storb said.
The Graduate Minority Committee also develops talent on the undergraduate level. Research opportunities for undergraduates are available through the Summer Research Opportunities Program for ethnic-minority students in their second or third year of college who are considering applying to graduate school. The Biological Sciences Division also offers three positions in the NIH Summer Research Program for undergraduates. In the future, the Graduate Minority Committee plans to monitor the success of talented minority undergraduates interested in the sciences and to encourage these students to pursue advanced degrees by providing opportunities for tutorials and meetings with faculty.
Storb said that many obstacles that now face ethnic minorities interested in science stem from the training received in grade school and high school, mixed with a sentiment within parts of minority communities that scientific research is only for Caucasian males. Storb believes these problems can be overcome by creating more role models in scientific research.
"Many students have the desire, commitment and potential to become talented scientists despite the obstacles," said Storb. "The medical field and other professions have established role models, so it is important for us to create role models in scientific research. There is a large amount of talent out there that needs to be fostered, and it is our responsibility to let students know the academic support, money and training programs are available. The University provides excellent training opportunities for future scientists."
For more information on biological sciences programs available to minority graduate and undergraduate students, contact Nancy Schwartz, Assistant Dean of Students for Graduate Student Affairs in the BSD, at 702-6426 or 702-1939.