Alliance Readies Students of Color for Scientific Study, Research

By Hayes, Dianne Williams | Black Issues in Higher Education, July 26, 1995 | Go to article overview

Alliance Readies Students of Color for Scientific Study, Research


Hayes, Dianne Williams, Black Issues in Higher Education


Alliance Readies Students Of Color for Scientific Study, Research.

WASHINGTON -- It was an opportunity to show her stuff, thought 21-year-old Nikia Laurie, as she participated in a leadership conference that showcased talented young people who represent the nation's future scientists, researchers, physicians and professors.

Laurie was among 210 students actively involved in the inaugural three-day Leadership Alliance Symposium (LAS) held recently at the National Academy of Sciences. The alliance is an academic consortium of 23 institutions of higher learning that include research universities and historically Black colleges and universities. Its mission is to help to develop outstanding leaders and role models in education, business and the private sector.

Students were transported to the nation's capital from around the country by LAS to address issues facing the scientific community -- in addition to hobnobbing, networking and meeting with prospective mentors.

Deoine Reed, a student at New York University Medical Center, said the symposium provided her with a "great opportunity to be in the same room with a Nobel laureate and to hear from so many impressive individuals who have been mentors and provided support to us." "It's my first time going to a meeting of this type where it is comprised of predominately Black scientists. That's not usually the case."

While for many students, the symposium represented an opportunity to network, show off their research, and observe some of their role models and mentors at work, their presence and numbers disputed many stereotypes about people of color and their scientific aptitude.

"The shortage of minorities in higher education is obvious," said Christina Johnson, Leadership Alliance associate director. "Institutions are looking to diversify their faculty, but are always claiming that there are not enough. Those who are tops in their fields are heavily recruited.

"One of our goals is to increase the number of minorities in higher education and to replace the aging faculty and diversify the staffs."

The causes for concern are obvious. An estimated 30-40 percent of the nation's current faculty at nearly 3,300 colleges and universities will retire by the beginning of the next century, nearly one-third of the 366 U.S. Ph.D.-granting institutions did not award a single Ph.D. degree in science or engineering to a student of color in 1991. Of the 149 institutions that did grant a Ph.D. degree to a student of color, only six awarded more than 10, according to the National Research Council. Those numbers are improving, but not at the rate that many in the scientific community would like.

Research, Reflection

After presenting her research using yeast as a model to show how human genes function and are regulated, Laurie, a Xavier University senior, paused during a student panel presentation to tell the audience of about 350 people how her life has changed because of the support she received from the alliance.

"They took a scared young girl who had never been far from home, and had just completed her freshman year across the country to Rhode Island to do clinical research," said Laurie, who is originally from Atlanta. "For a moment, I was overwhelmed. I prayed a lot and threw myself into it."

After her presentation, fellow students congratulated her on her research, and educational leaders offered professional tips. Harry Taylor from Morehouse University and Antonio Alvarez, a student at Brown University also presented information on their research during the student presentations.

"It was their first time coming together and seeing what a large and talented group they are," said Dr. Jocelyn Spragg, director of Harvard Medical School's Summer Honors Undergraduate Research program. Spragg served as moderator of the student platform presentations.

"It's wonderful for students to have the chance to present in this forum and have to answer questions in front of a large audience. …

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