A new partnership is bringing a program that supports students from underrepresented groups pursuing STEM to California’s UC Berkeley and UC San Diego.
The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is providing a $6.9 million grant over five years to implement aspects of UMBC’s Meyerhoff Scholars Program, and increasing diversity in tech is among the goals.
“The key to accelerating discoveries in science or the next tech breakthrough will be dependent on our ability to bring fresh perspectives to STEM fields,” Priscilla Chan, cofounder of CZI along with her husband and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, said in a statement.
“California’s openness to new ways of thinking is what has made this state an innovation engine for the world, and the University of California has played a crucial role in that as one of the largest and most diverse public research universities in the country,” she said. “With these new grants, we hope to help bring even more diversity of perspective and experience to our state — and to Silicon Valley.”
The Meyerhoff Scholars Program was launched more than 30 years ago, spearheaded by UMBC President Freeman Hrabowski while he was university provost and philanthropist Robert Meyerhoff. The goal was to create a supportive learning environment for high-achieving minority students who are seeking to earn advanced degrees and become leaders in science and engineering.
It started with a group of 19 African American men, and has since grown to include 1,100 alumni including the current U.S. surgeon general and top scientists at Google and NASA. Currently, 281 students are participating on the campus of roughly 11,200 undergrads.
“For many years we’ve been the top school of origin of African American undergraduates who earn dual MD-Ph.D.s in the country,” said Mike Summers, Robert E. Meyerhoff Chair for Excellence in Research and Mentoring, who has participated as a faculty member and led the program’s replication efforts to other universities. He started in 1987, the year a sit-in against racism was held on campus.
"By focusing attention and resources on a small number of high-achieving minority students, and then by intentionally making them very, very visible, it changes expectations."
Over nine years from 2007 to 2016, the predominantly white university graduated the second-highest number in the nation of African American students who went on to earn doctoral degrees in science and engineering, behind Howard University, Summers said.
“The program has completely changed the institution, and the key is by focusing attention and resources on a small number of high-achieving minority students, and then by intentionally making them very, very visible, it changes expectations,” Summers said.
Operating on a cohort model, among the program’s keys are a six-week summer bridge program, which prepares students for what it takes to succeed in a university setting. When students are at the university, Summers said the students arrive together ahead of time in class, and are frequently joining study groups to collaborate. They receive mentorship and advising from peers as well as leaders including Hrabowski, and talk of earning a doctoral degree starts from the beginning. There’s also built-in exposure to research, and connections to professional mentors in the area.
“Students feel that the entire institution is supportive and welcoming and committed to their success. The other part of it is the community aspect,” said Keith Harmon, the program director for the Meyerhoff Scholars Program. Students are also encouraged to help in the local community.
“We also want to make sure that we’re talking about our impact as a human, we’re talking about character, we’re talking about serving and leading and using their skills and abilities make the world better for someone else,” Harmon said.
The program has earned national accolades and raised UMBC’s profile well before it was the school that knocked off a 1-seed in men’s college basketball’s NCAA Tournament. It’s also drawn interest from other universities looking to replicate it. Summers said Penn State University and the University of North Carolina have implemented it. With the grant, the California schools will become the first on the West Coast to implement the strategies. UMBC staff will play a role in advising on how the program can be successful.
At UC Berkeley, which the university said is a leader of sending talent to Silicon Valley, it will serve 100 to 120 students over five years.
“The STEM Scholars Program at Berkeley goes hand in hand with our commitment to a more diverse and inclusive culture across our campus, and thanks to the support of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, we are charting a clear path forward in the STEM fields,” UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ said in a statement. “This program will enable Berkeley’s continued success as an engine of social mobility and a source for the next generation of top talent to such industries as Silicon Valley.”
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