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Hazel O’Leary generated energy for HBCUs – historically Black colleges and universities

Despite the harsh Republican congressional attacks that marked a
sometimes stormy tenure, departing U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)
Secretary Hazel O’Leary will be remembered for her efforts to transform
the agency.

Largely hailed for her leadership by those in the environmental
community O’Leary also brought about a heightened commitment to
minority participation and diversity. It is no wonder that historically
Black college and university (HBCU) officials are among O’Leary’s most
ardent defenders.

“She has done well. We are so proud of her,” said one HBCU president of O’Leary.

O’Leary, who worked at the Energy department during the Carter
Administration, has drawn much praise for transforming the once
secretive and stodgy culture of the U.S. Department of Energy to one of
openness. Charged with building and maintaining the nation’s nuclear
bomb arsenal, DOE had long thrived under military and civilian managers
who were referred to as the “Nuclear Priesthood.” O’Leary has said
DOE’s culture during the Cold War was to focus on building bombs with
little thought given to the consequences of weapons production on the

Early in her tenure, O’Leary set the tone by releasing previously
classified information about radiation experiments on humans and the
release of radioactive and chemical pollutants into the environment
during four decades of nuclear bomb building. DOE’s transformation has
brought to center stage the agency’s massive environmental cleanup
efforts, which are based at national laboratories around the United

Under O’Leary’s direction, DOE created the Office of Economic
Impact and Diversity by combining the Office of Minority Economic
Impact, the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business, and the Office
of Civil Rights. While DOE’s overall budget fell from $19.3 billion in
1993 to its current level of $16.5 billion, support for programs at
HBCUs more than doubled. Current HBCU funding by DOE is nearly $60

Although the seventeen-member HBCU/Minority Institution
Environmental Technology Consortium got its start under the Bush
Administration, O’Leary’s DOE expanded agency ties to Black colleges
and universities. DOE programs developed partnerships with HBCUs to
pursue the following: collaborative research and development,
technology transfer and commercialization opportunities, energy
curriculum development, infrastructure development, and systemic change
and outreach.

“[O’Leary] leaves a tremendous legacy at the Department of Energy.
Her record is an excellent one with regard to HBCUs,” said Dr. Ernest
L. Holloway, president of Langston University in Oklahoma.

Dr. Holloway traveled with O’Leary to South Africa as a member of
DOE’s Delegation on Sustainable Energy and Empowerment in 1995. He said
prior to the South Africa trip, Langston University had no relationship
with DOE. After Energy officials approached Holloway about joining the
South Africa trade mission, Langston University got funding to host
math and science summer programs for promising high school students in
Oklahoma and the Midwest, according to Holloway. The university has
also established a student exchange program with South African

Cheryl Dobbins, president of Basic Technologies International
Corporation, an information and technology data management company in
Annandale, Virginia, said O’Leary’s DOE has been most successful in
brokering partnerships between HBCUs and private industry with DOE’s
national laboratories.

“She was very forceful in speaking to companies and monitoring the
national labs to make sure of the inclusion of HBCUs in cutting edge
investigations,” said Dobbins, whose company managed the HBCU/MI
Environmental Technology Consortium from 1990 to 1992.

DOE has provided funding to enable a number of schools to upgrade
their math and science departments, according to Dobbins.
Infrastructure and equipment funding is critical to an institution’s
ability to develop and maintain master’s and doctoral programs in the

“One does not grow without having the tools to do so,” Dobbins said.

COPYRIGHT 1997 Cox, Matthews & Associates

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