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Yet "it's not just about increasing numbers" per se, says Freeman Hrabowski,
president of UMBC, "but increasing the numbers of students who excel, who become
passionate, who develop a vision about science. I want to hear them say, 'I
dream about science, I dream I'm in the lab.'" (See Perspectives and Opinions, "To Reshape a Culture.")
Robert Lue, HHMI program director at Harvard and co-director of the symposia,
believes that, just as biologists recognize diversity as essential to a healthy
ecosystem, should all scientists recognize that diversity in the pool of future
scientists will make science a more robust enterprise. "Diversity in the
sciences," he says," is about making sure we don't lose the insights that come
from a range of experiences and backgrounds." And there are programs to increase
diversity that work. So Lue and the other symposia organizers decided to take
"on the road" the lessons from campuses—Louisiana State University;
University of California, Berkeley; UMBC; and Xavier University of Louisiana,
among others—where underrepresented minority students excel in science.
Their aim is to encourage other institutions to make similar changes.
All the model programs strive to excite students about hands-on research early
in their college careers and to involve them in student-faculty interactions.
They also include components that focus on building a sense of community among
minority science students and improving their chances of academic success.
Strategies include intense mentoring by faculty or peers, summer courses to
teach study skills, refocusing of the ways introductory courses are taught, and
students' studying in peer groups—one of the most effective practices but
also one of the most controversial, as students and faculty often resist it.
But Jasmine McDonald,an alumnus of the UMBC program and now a doctoral student
at Harvard, recalls the value, in her own peer group, of hearing concepts
explained in different ways. And there were other, more profound benefits as
well." It was a support group, not just a study group," she says. "If someone
failed, the group failed. I learned that any successful person has someone
backing them, pushing their potential."
In backing these students, however, these programs also treat them with respect.
"BSP doesn't hold our hands or treat us as mediocre students," says Magana. "It
just sets up a level playing field. It gives me an opportunity to excel in
science, to be both dorky and cool about it. "
Wendy Raymond, a molecular geneticist at Williams College in Williamstown,
Massachusetts, and co-director of the symposia, says that having the students'
perspectives in the mix during symposium discussions has been powerful in
changing faculty and administrator attitudes about diversity.