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Building a cadre of Ph.D.s – scholarship program

To increase the number of African-American men with doctorates in the sciences, the 100 Black Men of America and the National Consortium for Educational Access (NCEA) have begun a new fellowship program.


“In the next five years we’re going to see an extreme shortage in minority Ph.D.s,” said Dr. Leroy Ervin, president of the NCEA and the Education Chairman of the 100 Black Men of America, which is countering that trend by granting awards to students earning their doctorates. “We only give awards for the Ph.D. because it is a teaching degree.


This way, we are investing in human capital, which gives the greatest return in the long run,” said Ervin. “It’s not that we don’t need doctors or lawyers, but there are other mechanisms to generate that. This program will strengthen the historically Black colleges and put more Ph.D.s on predominantly white campuses to help other minorities negotiate that system.”


The NCEA’s goal is to increase the national pool of minorities with doctorate degrees in underrepresented disciplines, like science and math, by encouraging students and supporting them through graduate study. There are currently III NCEA fellows enrolled in Ph.D. programs in sixty institutions across the country. The 100 Black Men, a service organization with chapters throughout the country, works to increase educational opportunities for all minorities, specifically African-American males.


This year, the first of their collaboration, the NCEA and 100 Black Men are granting four $6,000 stipends for 1996-97. “One of these students told me a professor said lie would make a good janitor. It’s things like that we need to be able to hear and go in and challenge in the ivory towers. That’s why we’re putting together a strong team of people who have gone through this process.


Every African-american male who gets through these programs has the intellect; it’s the other elements that some find too challenging,” said Ervin. “These people need mentors, perhaps more so than in undergrad, primarily because of the sociopolitical dynamics that go on in graduate school,” said Ervin. “One of the reasons the 100 Black Men is taking this on is because we want to make sure we have a cadre of mentors out there who have been through the process,” Ervin, who is seeking funding from major foundations, says he is hoping to have 100 fellowships in the next few years.


Jerome Brown, 22, one of the four fellowship recipients this year, started tinkering with computers when his father bought him a Commodore 54 when he was in the sixth grade. At that time the computer was an amusement for the Brooklyn youngster. He simply wanted to figure out how it worked.


“My father had the foresight to see it was important, but I looked at it as a toy,” said Brown, 22. “My goal after that was to able to write programs, actually make it do something useful.”


His curiosity, perseverance, and academic nurturing have earned the graduate from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania a $6,000 stipend from the 100 Black Men of North America and NCEA. Brown began graduate studies in computer science at the University of Maryland this fall.


Richard Broadus, a microbiology graduate student at the University of Illinois, who also received a fellowship, said that minorities need the kind of help offered by 100 Black Men. “The first thing I notice when I step into the classroom is the minorities start to look up. Because they don’t often see minorities teaching, their attention span is LIP,” said Broadus, 29. “We’re so used to being ignored in the classroom; so they’re excited to see someone who is of the same background achieving, as opposed to seeing a nonminority.”


Broadus said that the fellowship program “is one of the best things that has happened for Black males. If you look on the streets today you can see how many Black males are not doing anything. This will encourage more of us. It should be in every discipline, so we can build a renowned group of individuals.”


The stipend makes a difference on another level as well. “I would probably have to work without it,” Broadus said. “Considering my research assignment and teaching assistantship, I just don’t have the time for employment. So it allows me to spend more time studying.”


For Brown, earning a Ph.D. and returning to the classroom allows him the opportunity to extend help to others. “I would like to return the favor. In undergraduate school I saw a lot of students, Black students in computer science and math, who didn’t follow through because they didn’t get the right encouragement. They were told (the industry) is mostly white or foreign.”


Brown was one of nine students who graduated from Lincoln University’s computer science department last year, said Dr. N. S. Asaithambi, former chair of the math department there and an instructor and mentor of Brown’s. “The students are looking for role models and it’s really needed in the sciences,” said Dr. Asaithambi. “Right from his freshman year Jerome was always involved in projects outside the classroom. He would go after things and come back and ask me challenging questions. Jerome and one other student were the first students I graduated to look at Ph.D. programs.”


Another 100 Black Men fellow, Randolph Taylor, has taught biology to students at Morris Brown College in Atlanta for six years. “The students’ confidence level is higher, they feel they have somebody they can talk to, relate to.”


Taylor, 43, earned his master’s in biology from Texas Southern University and will study molecular biology at Howard University in January. “You become more versatile with a Ph.D. With a master’s degree you’re teaching the same type of courses, but you don’t get the same respect. Although you have the capabilities, you’re still limited because the Ph.D. is respected so much more.”


Says Taylor: “We need more Black Ph.D.s also because we need to solve some of the problems Black people are having. We cannot continue to wait for others to solve our problems for us.”


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