Indiana University-Purdue University’s Minority Research Scholars Program produces first graduates
By ERIK LORDS
When an Indiana program aimed at producing minority scientists and engineers graduated its first four students this month, Dr. Marchusa Huff’s mind overflowed with pleasant memories.
Huff is the director of the Minority Research Scholars Program at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. And it was her creativity and charm — not to mention her car — that helped her recruit the students in the inaugural class.
In spring 1997, she met high-school student Tamika Walker and her mother at an on-campus information session and zeroed in on them.
“I put Tamika and her mother into my Volvo and personally drove them around the campus,” Huff says. “I gave them a tour, asking them, ‘Have you seen our new library? Have you seen our housing?’ The housing wasn’t new but I told her how it could be fixed.”
Walker was sold on the university. “You want to go to school where people are going to care about you, and from day one Dr. Huff really showed that,” she says.
On May 13, Walker and her fellow classmates — biology major Aric Anderson, exercise physiology major Matthew Davis and computer technology major Jennifer Brooks — were the first program participants to graduate.
Walker, who graduated with honors with a degree in social work, will enroll in Case Western Reserve University’s dual law and social work program in the fall.
Davis, who given the prevalence of injuries incurred by aerobics instructors, researched the mechanical properties of their footwear for his undergraduate research topic. He is considering a master’s degree in sports medicine. Brooks is considering a career in computers.
Immersed in Research
The commitment and energy of Huff and other IUPUI officials has helped create one of the best programs of its type in the nation.
The MRSP currently serves 21 students, some of whom were National Achievement scholars and ranked in the top 20 percent of their high school classes. A $150,000 grant from Indiana University helped launch the program, which provides full tuition and fees, and a stipend for books. Over the last four years the university has covered operating expenses, but MRSP officials say they hope to land private and corporate financial support in upcoming years. Originally open only to graduates of Indianapolis public schools, the MRSP was tweaked in 1998 and now students statewide and from private schools are eligible.
Students choose from seven disciplines: science, engineering and technology, social work, nursing, dental hygiene, physical education and allied health.
“There are other programs on this campus that involve minority students, but none of them are like this one,” says IUPUI’s dean of the School of Science Dr. David Stocum, who founded the program in 1996. “Ours is very comprehensive and unique because of the research component. If we hadn’t started the program, there would be an empty space there and I believe we would have regretted it,” says Stocum.
The program immerses students into a research-enriched environment right from the start. “They start on the shallow end, and as they get their feet under them, they progress,” says Stocum.
Next, they enter a project that involves taking data and asking questions about it, as well as formulating a hypothesis and drawing conclusions from the data. The research component exists for all four years, allowing students to engage in extensive research projects alongside their mentors. Some students will share credit with their professors for work published in professional journals.
The relationship between the students and their faculty mentors is the cornerstone of the program, says Huff. Most students are in contact with their mentors for about 90 minutes each week.
“Without those mentors, students wouldn’t do as well,” Huff says. “The mentors are going to ask them, ‘Do you know your instructor well? Are you working on your paper?’ “
A PERSONAL CALLING
Huff, who also works as a nursing professor at IUPUI, says she was drawn to the director position because her two children benefited from similar programs. Her daughter used an AT&T scholarship designed to increase the number of Black engineers to attend Duke University. She is now a medical resident in surgery for head and neck injuries at Washington University in St. Louis.
Her son was a National Achievement scholar and now is studying business at Florida A&M University.
Most students in the MRSP “have fairly good supportive families, but many times their parents never went to college,” Huff says. “When that’s the case, sometimes everybody else in the family will ask students, ‘Why are you spending so much time on this studying?’ ”
The program invites parents and families to MRSP meetings and luncheons three times a year. To remain eligible, students must maintain a B average and “if a student falls below 3.0, we send a letter to the student and the parent,” Huff says. “And if they need a tutor, we have funds in the program to get them a tutor.”
Similar programs elsewhere have folded after a year or two because of poor funding. Stocum says MRSP is here for the long term and private money might be on the way. A university-wide fund-raising campaign could bring the science department $1 million, and MRSP would draw future operating money from the science department’s coffers, Stocum says.
Huff says she feels good about the program’s chance for long-term survival. The program boasts a 95 percent retention rate over four years, while the university’s retention rate for all students is 21 percent and 12 percent for all minorities.
“We’ve produced results,” says Huff. n
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com