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Stanford and UC Berkeley's Research Shows that Latinos and other Underrepresented Minorities Make Up 10% of Math and Science PhDs, New Alliance Hopes to Correct This

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First Posted: Feb 25, 2014 04:11 PM EST
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(Photo : (Photo: Flickr/ luminafoundation))

Stanford and UC Berkeley joined forces with UC Los Angeles and the California Institute of Technology, forming the California Alliance for Education and Professoriate (CAEP). In partnership, the institutions intend to tackle minority under-representation in math and science Ph.D. programs, and in faculty positions.

Right now, minorities make up a meager 10 percent of new Ph.D. students, and a slim four percent of faculty professionals. Numbers are not only low, but they aren't close to rising at the rate of minority population growth in the state of California.

The coalition aims to encourage Hispanics, African-Americans, American Indians, Pacific Islanders, and all under-represented minorities to pursue STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) Ph.D.s so that they may earn positions as faculty professors, and researchers in top laboratories. The alliance will utilize a $2.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation to ignite the effort to increase STEM Ph.D. minority students through conferences, mentorship and networking opportunities that will be organized so that students and faculty will better know one another, and prospects for the future will be better presented.

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"We're constantly on the look-out for new funding opportunities, new ideas, new initiatives that can help increase the diversity at Berkeley within the STEM field," Berkeley psychology professor Rudy Mendoza-Denton, a research director for the group, said during a phone interview with Fusion. "We were particularly intrigued by the possibility of teaming up efforts."

Faculty training will be provided to help minority students succeed, and students will be surveyed to uncover what factors could impact their decisions to pursue advanced degrees, or jobs in labs or in universities. Together, the alliance hopes to identify specific approaches, such as funding incentives, mentor programs and summer bridge programs, to assist students. They also plan to oversee a database that will help them identify and recruit postdoctoral faculty and students.

Though the initiative was originally engineered to assist students who are already in enrolled in a Ph.D. program, CAEP also focuses on attracting and empowering younger students of color. For that to happen, under-represented minorities must be partnered with mentors who are in the next stage of their education or career -- and students tend to seek mentors who have relatively similar life experiences. However, these mentors with parallel life experiences don't exist, as there are not enough under-represented minorities in STEM Ph.D. programs or on university faculties to act as mentors.

"If you find a role model you can identify with, it's easier to become the person you want to be," Rebecca Hernandez, a fourth-year environmental earth system science Ph.D. student at Stanford University said, according to a news release.

Only three of 51 Ph.D, students happen to be from an underrepresented minority group, and just one of 18 faculty members in STEM departments can claim themself as a member of an underrepresented minority group. The lack of diversity in science begins much earlier than college, however. Kindergarten through high school, 45 percent of the population is students of color, yet a mere 17.5 percent of educators are people of color. Also, there's a lack of diversity when it comes to students who take AP tests. Thirty thousand students were tested for the computer science Advanced Placement test in 2013, and only three percent were African-American and eight percent were Hispanic -- far lower than the national percentage of Latinos and Black.

"Too often educators aren't well-prepared or equipped with how to deal with the challenges and nuances of the people who come into their classrooms that are not as well-prepared academically, socially, intellectually and emotionally as they should be," Fusion were told last year by Dr. Roy Jones, who is the director of the Call Me MISTER program, which offers tuition assistance through scholarships and loan forgiveness to students who pursue specific education courses. "So having teachers that are culturally sensitive and that have similar backgrounds have always been viewed as value added to any school situation."

Time of completion among recipients in STEM fields continue to be an issue for people of color, which often affects minorities' decisions to pursue careers in that field. While completion time has declined within recent years, minorities remain behind with their completion time in STEM fields. On average, it takes Black and Hispanic males (7.2 years and 6.7 years) and Black and Hispanic females (6.7 years and 6.5 years) longer to complete a doctoral program, compared to non-underrepresented minorities (6.3 years).  

Additionally, underrepresented minorities' family status, parents' education, and debt accrued during undergraduate and graduate education are factors that affect what degrees minority groups select. Citizenship status and funding also play a role.

The Council of Graduate Schools also received a grant from the National Science Foundation to examine patterns of completion and attrition among underrepresented minorities in STEM doctoral programs across a diverse set of The National Science Foundation's Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP) institutions and non-AGEP institutions.

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