The United Negro College Fund Special Programs Corp.: Ensuring Diversity in Science

Throughout the past 2 centuries, African-American and other minority scientists, engineers, and mathematicians have made major contributions to their respective fields. Names such as Lewis Latimer (electric-lighting pioneer), Archie Alexander (bridge engineer), and J. Ernest Wilkins (mathematician, physicist, engineer, and nuclear/space researcher) are but a few of the many distinguished African Americans who are credited with important inventions and research. Although many minorities have contributed to science, mathematics, engineering, and technology (SMET) fields, there is more work to be done to create a more diverse scientific community. In this article, programs housed within the United Negro College Fund Special Programs Corp. ( UNCFSP) are described.

Funding Support for HBCUs

A recent National Science Foundation (NSF) report stated that although there has been a slight increase in the number of science and engineering degrees earned by minorities, limited funding has been provided to HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities). The receipt of adequate funding plays a pivotal role in training and producing African-American scientists and engineers. The NSF study also indicates there has been a continuous rise and fall in federal obligations to HBCUs, fluctuating from $214 million in 1991 to $329 million in 1995, then falling again to $293 million in 1998. These funding levels are a paltry sum, considering that they represent the total amount distributed among approximately 100 colleges. Hence, given the lack of resources for proper training and the desire to achieve greater exposure in the science and engineering workforce, both federal agencies and institutions of higher learning are turning more frequently to organizations such as UNCFSP for assistance.

The UNCFSP Program

A spin-off of The College Fund/UNCF--the distinguished, 56-year-old African-American higher education assistance organization--UNCFSP has been working to promote diversity initiatives within federal agencies since its inception in May 2000. As part of its initiative to ensure diversity in the scientific and technical workforce of the future, the UNCFSP administers several programs that encourage and assist higher-learning institutions--in particular, HBCUs, American Indian Tribal Colleges and Universities, Hispanic-Serving Institutions, and Other Minority Institutions--in establishing ties and cooperating with scientific and technological organizations. Science, engineering, technology, health, and environment are areas on which UNCFSP has focused in recent years.

Under the direction of Liz H. Lowe, President and Chief Executive Officer, UNCFSP administers the following key programs, with the focus of increasing the capacity of HBCUs to do science as well as the recruitment, retention, and promotion of minorities in the fields of science and engineering.

UNCFSP Components

In collaboration with NASA, UNCFSP has established the Curriculum Improvement Partnership Award (CIPA), the Harriet Jenkins Predoctoral Fellowship Program (JPFP) and the NASA Administrator's Fellowship (NAFP) programs, which specifically foster relationships among minority students, faculty, higher-learning institutions, and the government agency. The CIPA program, established in 1999, provides grant support for minority institutions in an effort to enhance their science, engineering, and technology curricula and facilities, ultimately creating an environment that will nurture students' interest in NASA-related fields. Through CIPA, minority institutions are eligible to receive grants of up to $300,000 for capacity-building activities.

Established in September 2000, the priority of the JPFP is, according to NASA's Office of Equal Opportunity Programs, "? to increase the capability of minority students to respond to NASA's overall research and development mission." Aiming to increase the number of women, minorities, and persons with disabilities in the SMET arena, the program provides fellowship support to graduate students majoring in NASA-related disciplines.

In addition, the NAFP--which is also targeted to math, science, engineering, and technology disciplines--facilitates relationships between the faculty of minority institutions and NASA scientists and engineers, allowing for the participation of the institutions in NASA-based research and development opportunities. According to Lowe, "the NASA programs are an insightful way to encourage and assist groups underrepresented in the science, mathematics, engineering, and technology fields."

In May 2000, the Department of Energy (DOE) and UNCFSP unveiled a 5-year initiative that provides minority students hands-on experience at DOE labs and offers a mentoring program. A related initiative is the Building Environmental Stewardship program, which serves to promote sustainability concepts at minority institutions, encourage the enhancement of environmental curricula, and facilitate research in the areas of biotechnology, computer science, and environmental science and engineering. As Lowe explains: "UNCFSP coordinates and directs the resources to support the initiatives of HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions in meeting their objectives, and [it] assists agencies in translating their priorities into locally driven action."

In addition to the above programs, UNCFSP administers a global center that includes international programs focusing on capacity building at international and U.S. colleges and universities through partnerships granted by the International Development Partnership and Tertiary Educational Linkages Programs, both of which are funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development. The increase of minority representation in international service careers is the focus of the Institute for International Public Policy program sponsored by the Department of Education. Also, UNCFSP has several programs that focus on health-related issues, such as HIV/AIDS awareness, orientation, and education under the sponsorships of the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For additional information about the United Negro College Fund Special Programs Corp. (UNCFSP), visit its Web site.

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