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NOAA Program Impacts Minority Serving Institutions

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is known for its scholarly involvement in fields like oceanography and the weather, but one program seeks to increase minority participation in the marine, environmental, and atmospheric sciences by offering internships and academic courses in these fields.

In 2001, Ambrose Jearld, Chief of Research Planning and Coordination for the Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC) at NOAA, met with Orlando Taylor, Dean of the Graduate School at Howard University, to discuss ways to improve relations between NOAA and minority-serving institutions (MSIs), and to increase the number of minorities entering oceanic and atmospheric sciences. The result was the creation of the Educational Partnership Program with Minority Serving Institutions (EPP/MSI), a NOAA-wide, multi-faceted program with an annual budget of $15 million.

Passing the Torch

NOAA Fisheries, based in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, has a long history of fostering minority development in the sciences, and Bradford Brown has a great deal to do with that history. Brown, the former Director of the NOAA's Southeast Fisheries Science Center, was responsible for a minority cooperative program that brought many of NOAA's current minority scientists to Woods Hole. He also recruited Jearld -- not through the program -- from a professorship at Howard University in 1978. Unfortunately, Brown's program was gradually dismantled, mainly during the Reagan era, due to budget cuts.

Recognizing the importance of the program, Jearld worked hard to revive it, or, rather, to create something new, but similar. This time, Jearld focused on a comprehensive strategy, tying academic institutions together with NOAA, and students, instead of just focusing on professional apprenticeships for students. The result is the EPP/MSI program.

EPP/MSI has four divisions: the Cooperative Science Centers, the Environmental Entrepreneurship Program, the Graduate Sciences Program, and the Undergraduate Scholarship Program. Each division is headquartered at a different MSI, and each Center maintains partnerships with various other MSIs and majority institutions.

Jackson State University Fish Stock Assessment Class

One aspect of EPP/MSI's Environmental Entrepreneurship Program is a two-part summer course on fish population dynamics and stock assessment. The class is offered to 15 minority undergraduate and graduate students each year. The first part of the course is a 4-week class worth four credit hours at Jackson State University (JSU) in Jackson, Mississippi. The class is taught by scientists from NOAA Fisheries, including Jearld, and JSU faculty members. The second part is an internship takes place at NOAA sites around the nation. The program pays tuition, travel, room, board, and a $1000 stipend.

Immediate Impact

Aziz-Abdul Yakubu, a Professor of Mathematical Biology at Howard University, decided to take advantage of the program to give his graduate student, Shari Wiley, practical experience in mathematical biology. Wiley took the fish population dynamics and stock-assessment course at Jackson State University (see sidebar) in the summer of 2003 and did her internship at the NOAA Fisheries facility at Woods Hole, where she spent her time modeling the food chain dynamics of three Georgia bank fish species.

Upon returning to Howard during the Fall of 2003, Wiley and Yakubu analyzed her results. The model made an excellent abstract mathematical concept that resulted in Wiley's master's thesis. "You can see the impact that EPP/MSI is having already,"Yakubu says, "It's very rare to get math that's able to explain biology so well." Yakubu accompanied Wiley to Woods Hole the summer of 2004 to collect more data.

Looking for Quantitative Backgrounds

Yakubu and Jearld are seeking more students with strong quantitative backgrounds --especially mathematics, physics, statistics, and computer science majors -- to take advantage of the opportunities available through EPP/MSI. Students who do, Yakubu and Jearld agree, will benefit from the exposure to career options outside academia or industry that NOAA Fisheries provides. "This is not only doing math,"Yakubu states "but you are making connections with the real world."

Jearld wants interns to do more than get research experience. He wants them to feel like a part of the NOAA family, and, like family, to return "home" anytime.

Creating a Partnership of Equals

Students aren't the only ones who benefit from EPP/MSI support. The program is designed to provide finances, training, students, and scientists to the participating MSIs; what Jearld calls building "institutional capacity." Including professors in the training program differentiates EPP/MSI from most minority science programs. Yakubu not only participated in his graduate student's research, he also lectured at Woods Hole. The initiative has strategies in place to strengthen professional relations between NOAA and MSI faculty members, which Jearld refers to as "a partnership of equals."

That partnership helps all parties, Jearld reasons. He uses the partnership NOAA Fisheries has forged with the Howard math department -- through himself and Yakubu -- to illustrate his point. NOAA Fisheries can look to Howard's math department for interns and researchers. And Howard's math department can continue to collaborate with NOAA Fisheries.

Jearld stresses that MSIs need not look to majority institutions to measure their worth. He believes MSIs have the same valuable expertise as majority institutions, but that this expertise is often overlooked, undervalued, and underutilized. EPP/MSI highlights the intellectual endeavors of MSI faculty and introduces minority scientists to mainstream research universities and institutions, according to Jearld. The NOAA program is fulfilling the organization's proud history of increasing minority participation in the marine, environmental, and atmospheric sciences.

Clinton Parks is a writer for MiSciNet and may be reached at

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