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CRPC's SaS Program Provides Inspiration for New $2.5 Million NSF Award

The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced on October 29 that Rice University will be among eight U.S. universities to receive nearly $2.5-million each to significantly increase the number of African American, Hispanic and Native American students receiving doctoral degrees in the sciences, mathematics and engineering (SME).

These eight institutions are the first to participate in five-year cooperative agreements with NSF in its newly established Minority Graduate Education (MGE) program.

Rice will receive about $500,000 yearly for five years to establish clusters of support groups for underrepresented minority students in the following areas: Computer and Mathematical Sciences (led by Richard Tapia), Bio- and Earth Sciences (led by Bonnie Bartel), and Chemical and Physical Sciences (led by Enrique Barrera). A fourth cluster, at the University of Wisconsin, Madison will adapt and replicate the Rice cluster model. Rice Provost David Auston serves as the Principal Investigator for the award.

The award will focus on changes in institutional, departmental, and organizational culture, and on practices that will result in significant increases in recruitment, retention, degree conferral and career (especially academic career) entry.

The funded research seeks to explain the factors underlying success at critical transition points -- from undergraduate through graduate study -- needed to develop a sustainable entry into the SME workforce. Specifically, the objectives are to: (1) develop and implement innovative models for recruiting, mentoring and retaining minority students in SME doctoral programs and (2) develop effective strategies for identifying and supporting under-represented minorities who want to pursue academic careers.

"The extensive success of the CRPC's Spend a Summer with a Scientist (SaS) program was a key factor in our obtaining this award," said Richard Tapia, CRPC's Director of Human Resources. "SaS demonstrates how an STC can enhance university culture while tackling one of the nation's most daunting challenges."

The MGE program was developed in response to ongoing U.S. congressional concerns about trends in the nation's education and development of minorities in SME fields. It was also created to fulfill NSF's continuing commitment to minority graduate education.

Other universities receiving similar grants include the following: University of Puerto Rico; Howard University; University of Missouri-Columbia; University of Alabama-Birmingham; Georgia Institute of Technology; University of Michigan; Rice University; and University of Florida.