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August 20, 2009

$2.6 million grant will create alliance to double number of degrees awarded to minorities in technical fields

News and Information

A regional alliance of colleges, universities, support organizations and science centers will be working together to double the number of bachelor’s degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics awarded to underrepresented minorities within the next five years.

A $2.6 million grant from the National Science Foundation will support an alliance of institutions from Idaho, Oregon and Washington which will employ a collaborative model that has proven successful around the country, increasing minority success in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) programs and boosting the number of minority students that go on for graduate education in STEM fields.

The University of Washington is the lead institution in the grant, called the Pacific Northwest Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (PNWLSAMP). Other four-year universities involved include Boise State University, Oregon State University, Portland State University and Washington State University.

The grant will create greater synergy and cooperation among existing programs at universities and community colleges, says Sheila Edwards Lange, the University of Washington’s vice president for minority affairs and project manager. “The project will enable us to be more effective in sharing resources, in encouraging students to pursue degrees in these high-demand fields, and in widening the pipelines that lead to degree completion and, in many cases, to graduate education,” she says.

Currently, the four-year partners award about 350 degrees to underrepresented minorities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The five-year goal is to increase this number to 700.

The National Science Foundation created the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation program in 1991 and now has initiatives in 40 states. A study in 2006 by the Urban Institute showed that the programs were very successful in boosting the number of underrepresented minorities gaining degrees in the selected fields, both at the bachelor’s and graduate level.

The program is based on the premise that activities which integrate students into the academic life of their institution and into their chosen discipline will result in greater success. Students are provided with financial, academic, social and professional support in a coordinated effort to help them succeed.

The process begins in high school or earlier, as university-based programs contact students to make them aware of the possibilities of studying a scientific or technical field. Washington and Oregon MESA (Mathematics, Engineering and Science Achievement) will be key partners in the program, working with educational programs and support to help K-12 students visualize themselves achieving a degree in a scientific or technical field. University recruitment staff become involved at this phase, advising students on the academic preparation that will make them competitive for college admission.

Potential LSAMP students who are accepted to college are then invited to participate in a “bridge” program the summer before they begin, which introduces them to college life and teaches them essential academic survival skills. Once on campus, students typically have access to tutoring, peer study groups and a campus learning center. Many students receive a stipend or scholarship.

Participating in a research project and having a faculty or peer mentor are often key experiences in making students feel welcome in and identify with a particular field of study. Region-wide conferences allow students to network with peers and faculty from partner institutions, as well as representatives from industry and graduate schools.

The program works closely with community colleges to encourage students to continue their education. The Pacific Northwest alliance will include: Chemeketa Community College, College of Western Idaho, Columbia Basin Community College, Highline Community College, Linn-Benton Community College, Seattle Central Community College and Yakima Valley Community College.

Local science centers, including the Pacific Science Center, Discovery Center of Idaho, Saturday Academy and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, will be involved in outreach efforts to younger students to pique their interest in science and technology.

Minority enrollment nationally at schools participating in the program has grown from 35,670 in 1991 to more than 205,000 in 2003. Almost 25,000 bachelor’s degrees are conferred to minority students annually as the result of the initiative.