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Black College Graduate Excels as UNCF Special Programs Leader

It’s no surprise that Aaron Andrews has been fond of historically Black colleges and universities all his adult life. He credits the mentoring he received at Morgan State University, where he earned a bachelor’s in physical education, for transforming “an insecure, inner-city kid” into a first-generation college graduate now bringing education to another generation of disadvantaged minorities.

As president and chief executive officer of the United Negro College Fund Special Programs Corporation (UNCFSPC) since 2004, Andrews heads an organization spun off from UNCF a decade ago to provide minority-serving institutions, including Hispanic-serving and tribal colleges, with services and programs focused on capacity building, training and workforce development. Federal monies finance about 90 percent of what UNCFSPC sponsors. Partner agencies include the U.S. Agency in International Development, NASA and the departments of Defense, Justice and Interior.

Before 2000, UNCFSPC was a division of UNCF focused on federal programs. While the two organizations may seem similar from the outside, UNCF handles only private monies, providing operating funds for its 39 member HBCUs and scholarships to students of color attending any college.

Since its inception, UNCFSPC has sponsored more than 260 training and technical-assistance workshops. With a $7 million annual budget, it also has awarded:


  • More than 330 faculty and professional fellowships.
  • More than 1,030 student fellowships and internships.
  • More than 220 faculty research grants.

The organization’s science and technology division sponsors major portions of those awards in response to the well-documented dearth of Blacks, Latinos and American Indians in those fields. Among the many programs are paid summer internships for undergraduates in biotechnology, computer science and environmental science.

“Once in a lifetime experiences are invaluable,” student Maria Draine, who interned one summer at Argonne National Laboratory, wrote in a 2009 UNCFSPC newsletter. “Opportunity, experience and knowledge are things that one cannot place any type of monetary value on.”

The son of laborers, Andrews agrees. His mother had only an 11th-grade education; his father, third-grade.

UNCFSPC initiatives are wide-ranging. Its public health division, for instance, has funded projects at HBCUs to educate and screen students for HIV. Its international programs division encourages and helps prepare students for careers in international affairs and foreign policy with opportunities to study abroad and increase cultural competence. The latter is a favorite of Andrews, who spent much of his career in the Army, living and working in places as far-flung as Germany, Korea and Panama as he rose in rank to lieutenant colonel. In the military, he designed and oversaw installation of a library tower and an online CD-ROM project.

Andrews has held other administrative positions at UNCFSPC and previously served as project director for the Defense Systems Management College’s electronic campus project.

Another initiative that Andrews is passionate about is the creation of so-called research clusters in which UNCFSPC forms teams benefiting HBCUs lacking research capacity. Each cluster features an HBCU, a mentor HBCU, a predominantly White institution, at least one government agency and a private business.   

“This has lots of professors excited,” Andrews says, “because the clusters teach minority institutions how to do business with the federal government and how to compete for the research dollars that have gone to the majority schools for so long.”

Despite the separation of day-to-day operations between UNCF and UNCFSPC, Dr. Michael Lomax, president and CEO of the former, has made a point of serving as a board member of the latter to help carry out its mission of organizing and delivering education support for students of color.

“We are delighted to work with them to achieve that worthy end, helping minorities get the education they need and our nation needs them to have,” Lomax says.

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