The National Science Foundation (NSF) is offering a $1.7 million grant to the Stony Brook University Center for Inclusive Education to provide career development for underrepresented minority doctoral students in STEM.
SBU’s Center for Inclusive Education (CIE) aims to diversify academia and graduate education, provide financial resources and recruit underrepresented minority graduates in the university. With programs like the Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP), the CIE is partnering with Suffolk County Community College and Farmingdale State College in providing development training to support doctoral students who plan on becoming faculty members in primarily undergraduate institutions.
“There’s underrepresentation when students of color are not seeing enough faculty in the classroom that look like them,” Karian Wright, NSF-AGEP project manager, said. “Research tells us that when students see faculty that look like them, they do better. In this program, they’re not only going to learn how to teach, but they’re also going to get practice in a classroom, teaching students.”
According to NSF reports, historically underrepresented STEM associate and full professors hold 8% of senior faculty positions at all four-year colleges and universities in the country. The AGEP model that has been practiced by Stony Brook University, Farmingdale State College and Suffolk County Community College aims to not only diversify STEM faculty in undergraduate institutions, but also to study and implement the model across the country.
Stony Brook’s partnership has provided students within the program an array of resources, including mentoring teams, research collaborations and national laboratory facilities that the three institutions integrated.
Candice Foley, professor of physical sciences at Suffolk County Community College and a partnering coordinator in the CIE, spoke of the importance of building connections between institutions to share physical resources and mentors in order to develop their research and teaching abilities.
“Over half of the nation’s students in STEM begin their education at a community college,” Foley said. “They don’t come here because they’re academically disadvantaged; they come here because they’re economically disadvantaged. We do anything to maintain those strong scaffolding connections and bridges between the two-year and four-year and then the graduate and career opportunities for our students in STEM.”
The AGEP Alliance provides a lending hand for students’ paths in doctoral education, postdoctoral training, and faculty progression by exercising innovative ways to expand mentor and mentee engagement and creating an environment where students of diverse backgrounds are better represented by peers and faculty.
Associate director of the Research Aligned Mentorship Program (RAM) at Farmingdale State College, Erwin Cabrera earned his Ph.D. in basic biomedical sciences as a MARC scholar, a program that provides research experiences and training for underrepresented students in the biomedical sciences. He is grateful that the program — similar to AGEP — jump-started his career in higher education and showed him the importance of mentorship in student achievement.
“[MARC U*STAR] was very instrumental for my academic upbringing to be around a community of scholars that looked like me, knew my experiences, understood where I came from and helped me persist,” Cabrera said. “A lot of people don’t understand that persistence in STEM is quite low, especially for students of color, so these initiatives help create that community and give a basis for people to understand what the next step is.”
David L. Ferguson, a distinguished service professor of Technology and Society at SBU, said that he had worked on establishing STEM communities through his work in the NSF by developing talent in students who are economically challenged. The NSF, according to Ferguson, has played a critical role in exposing students to science and technology while developing their skills in the field.
“In the AGEP project, the idea is that the institutions are in close proximity, therefore, students at various programs can start interacting with Suffolk Community College or Farmingdale College,” Ferguson said. “You’re grooming the students along the way to assume a certain kind of role.”
Ferguson said that STEM communities progress when multi-campus efforts share the same values about institutionalized diversity and find ways to practice them with the help of grants and scholarships.
“When institutions at different levels work together, it means a lot,” he said. “Diversity issues are systematic, so you need to work on them as a system.”
Kevin D. Jordan, Chief Diversity Officer at Farmingdale State College, said that by collaborating with sister institutions, they propagate a culture where diversity cultivates in and outside of classrooms.
“College faculty believe that classroom diversity broadens the scope of classroom discussion,” Jordan said. “Students who are taught and have experienced diversity in teaching faculty are better prepared for real-world experiences.”