FACES: Diversifying Engineering and Science

The National Science Foundation (NSF) started the Minority Graduate Education (MGE) Program in 1998, but later renamed it Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP). Its purpose was twofold: to develop and implement innovative models for recruiting, mentoring, and retaining minority students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) doctoral programs, and to develop effective strategies for identifying and supporting underrepresented minorities who want to pursue academic careers. While several colleges and universities participate in AGEP, four Atlanta-area schools have been successful in meeting the goals of the program.

The Facilitating Academic Careers in Engineering and Science (FACES) program is designed to increase the number of African-American students receiving doctoral degrees in science and engineering and to direct these graduates into the professoriate. FACES is a collaborative effort of the College of Engineering and the College of Science at the Georgia Institute of Technology, lead university in the alliance, Emory University, Morehouse College, and Spelman College. Since 1998, Georgia Tech has produced 138 minority Ph.D.s in science, engineering, and computing. Approximately 20% of these graduates have gone into academia.


The goal of the FACES program is to increase the pool African-Americans entering these fields. FACES has three phases of operation:

  • Undergraduate Scholars Research Program

  • Graduate Fellowship/Mentorship and Retention

  • Future Faculty Development

The Undergraduate Scholars Research Program is designed to recruit students into graduate school. Junior and senior participants from the Colleges of Computing, Science, and Engineering do research under the supervision of a faculty member for at least 10 hours a week and are paid $1000 per semester. Although this research takes place during the school year, minority students from the member schools and throughout the country may also participate in Summer Undergraduate Research in Engineering/Science (SURE) at Georgia Tech, a 10-week summer research program designed to attract students of color into science and engineering.

SURE program participants at Georgia Tech.

The Graduate Fellowship/Mentorship and Retention effort provides financial support and mentoring to graduate students. The FACES Fellowship Program presents incoming and continuing graduate students with a $3000 stipend, but once students advance to Ph.D. candidacy, the stipend increases to $5000. These funds are offered in addition to any other forms of financial aid they receive.

According to Gary May, chair of the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Georgia Tech, this second phase of FACES has a strong mentoring and enrichment component that is led primarily by a group of African-American faculty that serve as the steering committee for the alliance.

"The third component is Future Faculty Development," says May. "We provide workshops and training for those graduate students: what you need to know, what to expect, and how you should go about trying to become a faculty member. It culminates in an award that's given to four students finishing a Ph.D. per year." Three of those four students receive a Career Initiation Grant, which provides $30,000 that they can take with them as start-up funds at their first academic appointment. Georgia Tech has given out 10 Career Initiation Grants so far, and all of the recipients are doing well as assistant and associate professors.

The fourth award goes to a Ph.D. graduate who intends to do a postdoc before they enter academia. The winner of this award receives a "Portable Postdoc" for one year which is a $35,000 stipend that they can use to support their postdoc research anywhere in the country.

Secret of Success

May says the key to the success of FACES has to do with the presence and effort of the minority faculty who run the program. "I'm not sure if there are any other comparable situations where you have so many African-American faculty, particularly in engineering," May says. "Many of them are devoted to this type of outreach and having that critical mass here has been the key enabler for the success of the program. I guess Georgia Tech has just been lucky."

The FACES program is a great model for other institutions that are interested in producing more minority scientists and engineers. May's advice to other administrators? "You're trying the get students through the Ph.D., and the only people that can do that are the faculty," he says. "It's really important that faculty and administration of the particular school are aware of and in support of what you're trying to do."

Robin Arnette is editor of MiSciNet and may be reached at rarnette@aaas.org

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