Mentoring Minority Students for the Food and Nutritional Sciences: A Cooperative Program

Article excerpt

Abstract: With the need to increase the number of professionals from minority backgrounds in the profession, this article describes a mentoring program in food and nutritional sciences for minority students Jointly administered by Florida State University and Florida A&M University, the program provides mentoring in three key areas: career awareness, graduate education awareness, and research/clinical training. Results thus far show a 83% graduation rate, with graduates obtaining professional positions, graduate school placements, and the Registered Dietitian (R.D.) credential. Outcomes of the program and lessons learned are shared.

The family and consumer sciences profession has made concerted efforts in recent decades to become a more ethnically diverse field (Andrews, Paschall, & Mitstifer, 1993; Kellett, 1994; Ralston, 1978,1988;1991; Stage & Vincenti, 1997; Williams, 1988). Within higher education, increasing the participation of ethnic minority groups in the specializations associated with family and consumer sciences has become a priority issue (Bosselman, 1994; Hogan & Ruffin, 1994; Hymon-Parker & Carely, 1991; Nickols, Meeks, & Sweaney, 1996; Peck, 1994; Watts & Rodriquez, 1998). Food and nutritional sciences is one of the specializations that has received attention due to the small number of minority individuals represented in the field (Nutrition Notes, 1992) and because of the many health issues within minority communities in the United States (Cooper, 1993; Edwards, 1995; Kumanyika, 1990).

Data regarding minority participation in the food and nutritional sciences demonstrate the need for increasing the numbers of minority professionals. For example, data from the American Dietetic Association (ADA) show that 91% of the membership (n = 31,631) is White (not Hispanic) with 4.6% Asian, 2.6% Black, 1.5% Hispanic, and 0.2% American Indian, Alaskan or Hawaiian native (Ebro & Winterfeldt,1994). Moreover, these data indicate a decrease in the percent of minorities from a decade ago, when 87% of the ADA membership was White (Ebro & Winterfeldt). In addition, according to the data from the National Research Council's survey of doctoral recipients, of the 16,594 Ph.D.s working in U.S. food and agricultural sciences in 1989, only 448 were Hispanic and Black Americans (National Agricultural Research and Extension Users Advisory Board, 1991). Although minority participation is minimal in the food and nutritional sciences, there are many opportunities in the future for professionals with this and related disciplinary backgrounds (Goecker, Coulter, & Stanton, 1995).

The lack of minority participation in the food and nutritional sciences has sounded an alarm within the field, resulting in organizational efforts within ADA and other professional organizations to increase the number of minority professionals (Ebro & Winterfeldt, 1994). Specifically, ADA endorsed the establishment of mentoring programs that would recruit students from underrepresented groups, enhance their career awareness, and assist them in completing programs and becoming practitioners (Ebro & Winterfeldt). In addition, the National Organization of Blacks in Dietetics and Nutrition (NOBIDAN) was established out of a need for Blacks to gain greater access to professional opportunities in dietetics (NOBIDAN, n.d.).

Given the need for more minority professionals in the food and nutritional sciences and the potential value of mentoring programs, Florida State University (FSU), a comprehensive state institution, in conjunction with Florida A&M University (FAMU), an 1890 land grant university, launched a joint project in 1993, "Mentoring Minority Students for the Food and Nutritional Sciences" (hereafter referred to as the MEMS Project). The purpose of this article is to describe the development, implementation, outcomes, and lessons learned in relation to the MEMS Project.

Background and Development

In 1992, administrators in the College of Human Sciences at FSU and the College of Engineering Sciences, Technology and Agriculture at FAMU began a series of meetings to identify ways in which the two academic units might collaborate. …