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U.Va., Black Colleges Plan Student Exchange

U.Va., Black Colleges Plan Student Exchange

The University of Virginia and five in-state historically Black colleges and universities are finalizing an exchange program for summer research projects.

Officials with the HBCUs say the exchange will expand their academic resources, while U.Va. administrators hope it will boost their Black graduate student numbers and improve diversity at a campus with a history of racial tension.

Exchanges could begin this summer, though officials are still working out details like cost and whether students will receive credits, says Dr. Gertrude Fraser, vice provost for faculty advancement at U.Va.

“Getting undergraduates to do research is what gets them excited and thinking about going to graduate school,” she says, adding that as professors retire, the demand for a diverse pool of advanced degree-holding instructors will increase.

The program also will promote collaborations between U.Va. faculty and faculty at HBCUs by creating a computer database of opportunities for joint research, she says.

U.Va. officials are in talks with Hampton University; Virginia Union University, in Richmond; Norfolk State University; Virginia State University, in Petersburg; and St. Paul’s College, in Lawrenceville.

Fraser says a 12-person board is deciding things like which disciplines would be ideal for exchanges at each school.

“Hampton, for example, has world class astronomy and physics and also marine sciences,” she says. “That’s one where our students would probably be very interested because they can’t get it here.”

Dr. Elsie Barnes, Norfolk State vice president of academic affairs, calls the exchange a chance for NSU students to tap U.Va.’s resources.

“We’re always looking for enhanced opportunities for students,” she says. “[The] University of Virginia is a more richly resourced institution than Norfolk.”

The program is an outgrowth of a 2004 U.Va. diversity report that urged sustained partnerships with HBCUs. The same report encouraged creating an office for recruitment of minority graduate students — targeting a segment of the student body that has lagged nationwide.

By offering students a chance to do research in fields they may have been interested in, but couldn’t find at their own institutions, Fraser says officials hope to stimulate minority undergraduates to pursue higher degrees.

At Virginia State University, where the only doctorate offered is in education, provost Eric Thomas believes the program will help retain graduate students.

For U.Va. students, the program will offer social as well as academic benefits — among them, a taste of the unique traditions that comprise “the HBCU experience,” says student Gregory Jackson, who’s helping promote the program.

“This would be a good way for us to kind of step beyond what’s here … what’s in our comfort zone,” he says.

— Associated Press

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