Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Bridging THE GAP

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Bridging THE GAP

Article excerpt

NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION INITIATIVE EASES THE TRANSITION FROM UNDERGRADUATE TO GRADUATE STUDY

In recent years, the lack of underrepresented groups pursuing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines at the graduate level aroused the concern of some far-sighted advocates. When confronted with this noted absence, however, many colleges and universities traditionally responded with the argument that qualified students from these groups were impossible to find.

Yet nearly 23,000 baccalaureate degrees are conferred annually in the United States upon African American, American Indian, Hispanic and Pacific Islander students in the STEM fields. In addition, a preliminary report from the Urban Institute slated for completion in September, suggests that between the years 1992-1997, 51 percent of STEM graduates from underrepresented groups held GPAs of 3.25 or above.

"One of the things we heard was that there was a gap between baccalaureate and graduate programs," explains Dr. Claude Brathwaite, Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) project administrator, based at City College in New York. "A huge number (of underrepresented students) are not necessarily showing up in doctoral programs."

The promise of relatively lucrative employment in the workplace, the fear of incurring additional educational debt and unfamiliarity with the graduate school process are some reasons significant numbers of STEM graduates have not enrolled into terminal degree programs in the past, Brathwaite explains.

The Bridge to the Doctorate initiative (BD), conceptualized by Dr. A. James Hicks, LSAMP program director at the National Seience Foundation (NSF), was established in 2003 to address those issues and bridge that gap.

As a supplementary activity to the congressionally mandated LSAMP Program implemented in 1991 to increase the number of underrepresented STEM graduates from undergraduate institutions, the BD initiative operates under the auspices of The Directorate for Education and Human Resource through the Division of Human Resource Development.

"This is an investment by the nation to move students into graduate schools," says Hicks, who formerly served a decade as dean of North Carolina A&T State University's College of Arts and Sciences.

INTO THE GRADUATE ARENA

The Bridge to the Doctorate initiative is designed with the ultimate goal to increase the number of underrepresented groups in the professorate, with an immediate goal to "broaden the students' participation and get them into the graduate arena," Hicks says.

The latter is accomplished with two years of funding from the LSAMP program that allows students to enter graduate programs financially unencumbered. Beginning in the fall of 2003, the initial cohort of BD participants received 12-month stipends of $27,000 and 10,000 for tuition. In the fall of 2004, the second cohort will see increased stipends of $30,000 and tuition payments of $10,500.

Students focus initially on the first two years of graduate school, rather than the five to seven years it can take to complete a doctoral program, a time commitment many might see as a daunting prospect. "We give it to them piecemeal," Hicks says.

Once BD students enter a graduate program they participate in workshops and other activities that demystify the pursuit of graduate education - all without the stress of funding issues. BD participants are linked with faculty mentors, establish research projects, attend conferences in their fields, make poster presentations, establish networks and learn the ropes of the graduate process - which includes the knowledge that doctoral programs in the STEM disciplines generally provide fellowships for students to complete their degrees.

Hicks says with this type of preparation, students "will stay the course" once they see the opportunities available to them.

"The key was to get the students' attention" and get them acclimated, he says. …

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