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Thursday March 30th

Duke aims to bring minorities into STEM graduate programs

Photo courtesy of Duke University.
Buy Photos Photo courtesy of Duke University.

Duke University’s new program aims to bring more underrepresented minorities into the school’s graduate-level STEM field programs.

The University Center of Exemplary Mentoring (UCEM) program is funded by a $1 million grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. 

The program will grant 10 scholarships to graduate students in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math who come from underrepresented minority groups. This makes Duke the ninth university with a Sloan-funded UCEM.

Paula McClain, the program’s co-director, said she hopes the center will create a more diverse demographic of Ph.D. students.

“This is important because the proportions of successful Ph.D. graduates from underrepresented groups in our programs should reflect the country’s demographics,” McClain said. “We have made progress in that area, but we are not there yet.”

The UCEM program is more involved than solely the scholarship. It is based around a six-pillar system: admissions and recruitment, academic support, mentoring, professional development, financial support and student well-being.

“These pillars are the foundations of how we develop the program and how we carry it out,” said Jacqueline Looney, Duke's senior associate dean for graduate programs and associate vice provost for academic diversity. 

Looney’s role is to support the administrative arm of the initiative, meaning she will be working primarily with the deans and faculty involved in the program.

“The main goal is to increase the number of underrepresented minority students in mainly the physical sciences and engineering departments at Duke,” Looney said.

UCEM aims to achieve this by working with faculty members to help students navigate the trials and tribulations of graduate school, developing a better strategy to recruit students from underrepresented groups and by financially aiding the students.

“As Ph.D. students, there’s always a conference, there’s always a project that you may want to pursue that you may not have the resources for,” Looney said. “It gives them additional support to enrich their lives as graduate students."

The program will also work to foster better adviser-advisee relationships between ]students and faculty members.

McClain said the program will ensure that faculty have the resources and training they need to be effective mentors by sponsoring workshops where faculty, graduate students and postdocs can learn how to improve their advisor-advisee relationships, she said.

Calvin Howell, UCEM’s other co-director, believes the mentorship aspect of the program is crucial to the initiative’s success along with the recruited scholars’ academic success.

“It is well known that graduate students with multiple mentors tend to have a richer graduate school experience,” Howell said. “The Duke UCEM facilitates and encourages students to acquire multiple mentors.”

According to Howell, all the forms of support offered are pretty basic. 

"But what the center does is integrate them together into a coherent support structure,” Howell said.


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