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Strategizing to Diversify Science
by Laura Bonetta
Educational institutions share experiences, and agree to continue the collaboration, in attracting underrepresented minorities to science and retaining them.
Speakers at the fourth diversity symposium, sponsored by HHMI and the NIH, included John Matsui, University of California, Berkeley and Pamela Baker, Bates College.
The future looks bright for Brian León. “I am in a position where I cannot be disappointed about anything,” says the University of California, Irvine (UCI), senior. He has already been accepted into five graduate programs and is waiting to hear from three more.
After transferring from a local community college, León joined UCI's Minority Science Programs (MSP), which provide a combination of study-skill courses, research experiences, and career advice to selected students from minority groups that are underrepresented in the biomedical sciences. “I never go two days without some form of contact [with program staff],” says León, whose family emigrated from Peru. Such steady interaction seems to pay off: in 2007, 15 seniors completed the MSP and 11 entered a Ph.D. program.
UCI's programs were among the initiatives spotlighted in “Diversifying Science: From Concept to Practice”—a workshop held at HHMI headquarters January 27-29, 2008, and the last in a series. These four diversity symposia, sponsored by HHMI and the National Institutes of Health, brought together institutions committed to increasing the number of underrepresented minority students in the sciences.
All the symposia showcased model programs at colleges and universities with impressive records of graduating minority students in science fields, but the fourth symposium went further by discussing challenges that participants have faced in implementing their programs and the strategies they've used to overcome them.
For example, one accomplishment of the earlier symposia was that participating institutions began measuring minority-student attrition from science majors—in large part by tracking the number of minorities in each biology and chemistry class and their grades over a three-year period.
Photos: James Kegley