Dr. Tukufu Zuberi is familiar to millions of viewers on the popular PBS “History Detectives” program, a television series in its eighth season devoted to “exploring the complexities of historical mysteries, searching out the facts, myths and conundrums that connect local folklore, family legends and interesting objects,” according to its Web site.
His day job? Zuberi is the Lasry Family Endowed Professor of Race Relations at the University of Pennsylvania, where he serves as chair of the sociology department.He still finds time in between teaching and filming his television show to cha cha, waltz and swing with his student-instructor at Penn.
He is one of eight professors selected to participate in an on-campus “Dancing with the Professors” extravaganza modeled after ABC’s hit show, “Dancing with the Stars.”
“I can’t dance a lick,” says Zuberi. “The rehearsals have been filled with a lot of sweat, pain and fun.”
Despite his celebrity status as one of the nation’s most recognized Black intellectuals, Zuberi, who first burst onto the national scene in the early 1990s, has found a way to hone all of his academic interests without forcing himself to choose one discipline over another.
“I am trying to be a scholar like W.E.B. Du Bois,” says Zuberi, who authored numerous texts including Thicker Than Blood: An Essay on How Racial Statistics Lie.
“Du Bois was an interdisciplinary scholar.
He was not bound to any one discipline.”
Zuberi, who formerly served as the director of the Center for Africana Studies program at Penn, is credited with jumpstarting the doctoral program in Africana studies, which inaugurated its first class of students this academic year.
“Tukufu has made it his mission to build a strong and intellectually rich program in Africana studies,” says Dr. Camille Z. Charles, an associate professor of sociology at Penn who replaced Zuberi as director of the Africana studies program. “He has been a champion for raising the profile of African-American sociologists and their contributions to American sociology going all the way back to Du Bois.”
Zuberi, 50, was born Antonio McDaniel in the Tassafaronga housing projects in Oakland, Calif. He changed his name aft er he was introduced to the Black Panthers in the years following the civil rights movement.The Black Panther headquarters was just a few blocks from his childhood home.
“The Black Panthers introduced me to what it means to be a socially responsible person,” says Zuberi, who took on the Swahili name that means “beyond praise and strength.”
“The decision to change my name and my experience in the university are all organically connected,” he says. “It’s a desire to make a connection to the past while helping to transform the world into a better place.”
Since 1988, Penn has provided Zuberi with the space and the resources to pursue his academic interests at home and abroad.The chief architect of the African Census Analysis Project, he has convinced more than 30 African nations to turn over census data to him dating to the 1970s. He and other scholars have been archiving this data, hoping one day to make it available to scholars around the world who are interested in demography across Africa.
“The University of Pennsylvania has facilitated my work in Latin America and Africa and has allowed me to travel,” says Zuberi. “For me, it has been important to be at a university that values the person who does international work. I work with and collaborate with scholars in Africa, Europe and Latin America.”
Penn has also encouraged his work as a host of “History Detectives.”
“I get to engage in cultural imagination in ways that most scholars never get the opportunity to do,” says Zuberi. “I connect people in their everyday lives to history in an entertaining and accessible way. It’s a wonderful experience.”
Pennsylvania News Nuggets
Colleges and universities in the state are reaching out to minorities and women, bringing them into science, technology, engineering and math programs.
Carnegie Mellon University:
Carnegie Mellon and six other universities have joined forces with eight historically Black colleges and universities to create the Advancing Robotics Technology for Societal Impact (ARTSI) Alliance in efforts to promote robotics and computer science education for African-American students. ARTSI, funded by a three-year, $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation, will encourage Black students to pursue computer science and robotics, starting as early as elementary school and continuing their support with mentoring programs during students’ undergraduate years. African-Americans hold 4.8 percent of 2 million U.S. computer science and information technology jobs, a category the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts will be one of the fastest-growing fields in the next decade.
Luzerne County, where King’s College is located, saw the largest percentage increase in Hispanics anywhere in the United States for Hispanic populations larger than 10,000 between July 1, 2007 and July 1, 2008, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. With a growing population to serve, longtime educator Isabel Balsamo decided to start the McGowan Hispanic Outreach Program, which is working with three local high schools to better prepare Latino students for college. The program targets second-semester high school sophomores, who attend weekly after-school sessions and a summer enrichment program on campus, among other activities. Of the 15 who inaugurated the program in spring 2007, eight graduated from high school and went on to college. Two attend King’s College, and one received a full scholarship.
University of Pittsburgh:
The university’s Swanson School of Engineering aggressively recruits and retains minority, women and economically disadvantaged students for its program. The Office of Diversity within the school runs three programs, including the Pitt Engineering Career Access Program (PECAP) for pre-college and undergraduate students. Students can enroll in PECAP’s pre-college program, called INVESTING NOW, as early as eighth grade. Building model dams and designing Web sites are among the hands-on engineering activities students undertake. They also receive tutoring and college-planning advice and take five-week summer session classes at the university.The goal of PECAP’s undergraduate program, Pitt EXCEL, is to retain under-represented minority students. The program begins with a rigorous summer engineering academy prior to participants’ freshman year. EXCEL also offers semimonthly academic counseling sessions for underclassmen and monthly sessions for juniors and seniors.
The university’s College of Engineering, ranked in the top 10 nationally by U.S. News and World Report, also leads the pack when it comes to women in engineering. While many engineering schools are trying to balance the gender inequality in their faculty and student body, Villanova has nearly 6 percent more women on its tenured/tenure-track faculty than the national average of 12.3 percent and nearly double the number of women in its freshman class of engineering majors â€” 31 percent compared with just 17.9 percent.
West Chester University:
The Frederick Douglass Institute, a program of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, is in its 10th year, promoting the study of Douglass as a way of understanding how to achieve excellence. West Chester University, where Douglass gave his last public lecture in 1895, manages this collaborative effort by the system’s 14 schools to promote academic study and support for minority students. Each university can design its own programming, based on the main mission of the institute. A popular program administered at nine campuses is the “Teaching Scholars” program in which graduate students who aspire to become professors teach summer courses during their final year of study. Many universities sponsor seminars, exhibits, field trips and speakers to broaden students’ cultural understanding.
Biology professor Dr. William Terzaghi will direct a new program aimed at increasing the number of underrepresented minority students studying biology. A $700,000 grant from the National Science Foundation will fund the program.Four students will be recruited from Wilkes undergraduates and local community colleges each year, and they will join student teams working on year-round research projects, mentored by eight faculty members.The grant will support each student for two years. During that time students will conduct research, learn to analyze literature and interpret data, and learn how to succeed in graduate school through academic mentoring and preparation for the Graduate Record Exam (GRE). The program starts in summer 2010 and runs for five years.
Filmmaker Claudia Pryor’s documentary, “Why Us? Left Behind and Dying,” which explores the awareness and attitudes of a group of Black Pittsburgh youth toward HIV, will be the basis of new curricula aimed at dispelling myths surrounding Blacks with the disease. Sponsored by the Council for Opportunity in Education, the educational program in which high school students will research HIV/AIDS in their communities will be taught by Upward Bound staff, starting in the summer of 2011. A separate college program, a oneday seminar, will focus on three key issues: secrecy and shame, science and the distrust of science, and homophobia, and the church and community.This program will be tested out next spring at colleges with Federal TRIO Programs, which are designed to support low-income and firstgeneration college students.Visit DiverseEducation.com for a preview of the film.