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Minority Graduate Students Urged to Address Pipeline Issues

ARLINGTON, Va. — A panel of senior professors and researchers told attendees at the largest annual gathering of U.S. minority graduate school students that earning their Ph.D.s and becoming faculty will help make them effective advocates for expanding the educational pipeline of students of color seeking higher education.  


During the session, “The Need to Examine and Address the Current Status of Minority Males in Higher Education,” at the Compact for Faculty Diversity’s 16th Annual Institute on Teaching and Mentoring on Friday, panelists urged students to channel their eventual Ph.D. success into becoming role models and advocates for programs that could boost the numbers of young minority males completing college and graduate school. The Compact for Faculty Diversity, a national partnership of regional, federal and foundation programs that focus on minority graduate education and faculty diversity, held the annual institute in Arlington, Va., this past weekend.


“The first thing you have to do is be successful. Take care of yourself first. Get yourself situated,” said Dr. Henry T. Frierson, associate vice president and dean of the graduate school at the University of Florida.


During his presentation, Dr. Ronald D. Henderson, director of research at the National Education Association, unveiled data showing minority men have failed to keep pace with minority women in enrolling as well as completing undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs over the past three decades. African-American and Hispanic women have dramatically increased their participation throughout U.S. higher education at the undergraduate and graduate levels, according to Henderson.


“We know that we’re losing young minority males as early as elementary school. There have to be interventions at all educational levels,” Henderson said.


Frierson, who is a co-editor of Black American Males in Higher Education: Diminishing Proportions, moderated the discussion session. He said the emerging generation of minority graduate students will soon find themselves positioned to help lead the movement for higher education diversity as soon as they establish themselves in the academy.


“The charge is yours. This is something you’re going to have to do. You’re going to have to bring attention to (the declining rate of minority male participation in higher education),” Frierson said.


“What’s happening here is that (the senior minority) guys are retiring. There’s too few of us in the middle and the young people aren’t at the table yet. You (graduate students) have to survive,” said Dr. Mark Hernandez, professor of engineering and director of the Colorado Diversity Initiative at the University of Colorado at Boulder. 


Hernandez and Dr. Juan E. Gilbert, professor and chair of the Human-Centered Computing Division in the school of computing at Clemson University, told session attendees it’s critical to spread awareness of the opportunities that exist for individuals with advanced degrees. There’s too little understanding among under-represented minorities about the opportunities that higher education can bring to graduates, they said.


Gilbert mentioned it’s also critical to discredit negative stereotypes about scientists and engineers when encouraging young students to consider STEM (scientific, technical, engineering and math) careers. He said students should learn that professors with Ph.D.s in the sciences and engineering fields often have the flexibility of becoming entrepreneurs based on their expertise. (Gilbert is a principal in Applications Quest, a software company affiliated with Cox, Matthews and Associates. Cox, Matthews and Associates publishes Diverse: Issues in Higher Education and 


“What we’re seeing is a shift in the academy where they want faculty to come, not only as researchers, but as entrepreneurs as well,” Gilbert said. “The top entrepreneurial regions in this country are Silicon Valley, the Boston corridor and Austin, Texas. What do all three have in common? They have major research institutions in their area.”


Dr. Ansley Abraham, director of the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB)-State Doctoral Scholars program, said registration for the Institute on Teaching and Mentoring this year was high with 1,125 participants, including more than 900 doctoral students. The institute draws students, faculty and others from across the U.S. for four days of networking, leadership training, professional development and job recruitment. Including numerous workshops and prominent speakers, the Institute focuses national attention on the need to increase the amount of minority faculty across the U.S.


“We thought it was a real good sign this year that 1,125 (registrants) was higher than it was last year. And it was real impressive to us that in a down economy that we had that kind of participation from the students and from the programs that contribute their support,” Abraham said.


The Atlanta-based nonprofit SREB hosts the event along with the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education (WICHE), based in Boulder, Colo., and participating colleges, universities and state agencies. Other participating programs in the institute are the National Institutes of Health’s Bridges to the Professoriate, the National Science Foundation’s Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and U.S. Education Department’s Ronald E. McNair Program.

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