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A One-Stop Shop

by Ronald Roach

A One-Stop Shop

Funding and research opportunities are available for STEM faculty and students at minority-serving institutions, and one Web site provides access to this information.

By Ronald Roach

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina and its resulting floodwaters devastated the microbiology research laboratory that Dr. Tanya McKinney had established at Xavier University of Louisiana, a historically Black institution in New Orleans. She says it will take hundreds of thousands of dollars over several years to fully re-establish the lab, but she’s had little time to find the federal grants she needs to get it in working order.

Last spring, while at a National Science Foundation conference for science research professors, McKinney learned about the Science Diversity Center, a Web-based portal that has consolidated information on all the federal research funding targeted to faculty members at minority-serving institutions, or MSIs. Almost immediately, McKinney says she recognized the resource as one answer to her dilemma. Developed with backing from the National Science Foundation, the SDC has been unofficially up and running since last year, and helps faculty members, administrators and students save time in researching opportunities targeted towards minorities in the STEM disciplines — science, technology, engineering and math.

“Though I still haven’t had the time to apply for grants given that we are still coming back from Katrina, I’m checking the Science Diversity Center at least once a week,” McKinney says. “Rather than spend hours going through the general science grant Web sites, the Science Diversity Center allows me to find those specific opportunities aimed at minority-serving schools, such as Xavier.”

Dr. William E. McHenry, SDC’s chief developer, says that the center is comprehensive enough to help majority White schools develop programs and launch outreach efforts with the nation’s MSIs.

“We’ve tried to make this resource as far reaching as we possibly could,” McHenry says.

McKinney and others say it’s particularly useful that the SDC site includes details about the nearly 6,000 research awards that have been made to tribal colleges, Hispanic-serving institutions and HBCUs over the years. That history, according to McKinney, helps her gain a strategic understanding of what federal agencies are looking for, and allows her to see which schools SDC has already partnered with. The site, officially launched on Feb. 28, was established with roughly $800,000 in funding from the NSF’s Model Institutions for Excellence programs.

Keeping Score
NSF officials say SDC builds on the success that MSIs have had in recent decades sending undergraduates into STEM graduate studies and developing their own STEM graduate programs. Fifty years after desegregation, HBCUs remain the largest producer of Black STEM professionals. The 10 accredited HBCU engineering schools, which represent only 3 percent of all accredited engineering schools, confer more than 30 percent of all engineering bachelor’s degrees awarded to Blacks. And more than 25 percent of Blacks receiving doctorates in engineering earned their bachelor’s degrees from HBCUs as well.

David L. Temple, the program director for NSF’s Model Institutions for Excellence, says federal administrators recognized a few years ago that they needed better coordination with MSIs to keep up with the progress those schools were making in developing STEM research and graduate degree programs. While leading an interagency effort to improve federal outreach, Temple learned that McHenry and a former NSF official had already proposed creating a database to track those schools’ activities in STEM research and training.

“I found out that McHenry and Dr. Margaret E.M. Tolbert had proposed this idea when they were at NSF in the 1990s,” Temple says. McHenry, a chemist and the first director of NSF’s Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation program, has been among a handful of veteran minority scientists who have spent much of the past two decades aligning federal agency support with STEM training and research programs at MSIs. Temple says he contacted McHenry and persuaded him to lead the effort to develop what has become the Science Diversity Center.

In the process of developing SDC, McHenry moved from Oklahoma, where he served as the vice chancellor for academic affairs with the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, to Mississippi, where he is now the executive director of the Mississippi eCenter at Jackson State University.

Dr. Victor A. Santiago, the acting director of the Human Resource Division at NSF, says he and other NSF officials have been “impressed with [McHenry’s] unflagging energy” in getting SDC up and running.

“I know that he and David Temple shared a vision of the Center’s potential utility … to bring new opportunity and STEM workforce preparedness to thousands of students, and especially those in underrepresented populations who might not otherwise perceive accessibility to this degree,” Santiago says.

The SDC is housed at the Mississippi eCenter, a business incubator and center for high technology research laboratories. NSF officials say it’s no surprise that the historically Black Jackson State has embraced the SDC, given that the school is one of the top HBCUs in the nation for science and technology research.

According to Santiago, Jackson State has a strong “reputation for solid grantsmanship and respect and appreciation for scientific and technical innovation.”

Officials expect to add innovative features to SDC that will facilitate professional development, student recruitment and collaboration among the center’s users. STEM-focused Webinars, where scientists at MSIs convene professional meetings in an eMeeting Room, began last month. The eMeeting rooms will also enable institutions to host meetings with prospective students.

“The Center continues to evolve as new technical components emerge, and in response to additional identified needs. We recognize its extraordinary potential to consolidate vast amounts of grants and research data, to assist STEM researchers, academe, grantors and grantees, students and other federal agencies in their search of new information and colleagues who have demonstrated similar interests,” Santiago says.

The SDC is available at http://sciencediver sitycenter.org.



© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com

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