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New Report: Black Colleges Crucial in Grooming New Scientists, Engineers

by DANA FORDE

Historically Black colleges and universities play a vital role in producing future scientists and engineers, according to a recent report released by the National Science Foundation.

The report, entitled “Role of HBCUs as Baccalaureate-Origin Institutions of Black S&E Doctorate Recipients,” analyzes educational trends over the past two decades and compares private and public schools and HBCUs with non-HBCU institutions in conferring undergraduate degrees to future doctoral recipients in the science, engineering and health fields.

Among the findings: the percentage of science and engineering doctoral degree recipients who earned undergraduate degrees from HBCUs ranged between 24 and 33 percent from 1986 to 2006. Additionally, the top five baccalaureate-origin institutions of 1997-2006 Black science and engineering doctoral recipients were Howard University with 224 doctoral recipients, Spelman College with 150, Hampton University with 135, Florida A&M University with 100, and Morehouse College with 99.

Officials say that HBCUs are consistently proving to be leaders in educating future scientists, researchers and engineers. “HBCUs, as a group, produce among the highest numbers of S&E doctorate recipients,” says Dr. Joan Burrelli, a senior analyst for the NSF and co-author of the report. “They are important institutions in producing future doctorate recipients, and that is increasing.”

Rounding out the top 10 schools from which Black science and engineering doctoral recipients received bachelor’s degrees are North Carolina A&T State University, Southern University A&M College at Baton Rouge, Xavier University of Louisiana, Harvard University and the University of Maryland, College Park.

Dr. Sylvia T. Bozeman, a professor of mathematics at Spelman College, says the institution’s dedication to instilling leadership qualities in its students contributes to the college’s success in grooming future doctoral degree recipients.

“For minority students who come from backgrounds where they have not been exposed to role models in science … they just have no idea that science is something they can do,” says Bozeman. “It’s important for students to have an early introduction to the idea that they can be scientists — and that’s what Spelman does. We put students in close contact with faculty through undergraduate research and other structures so that faculty members can mentor them to be scientists, and we also help them see themselves as scientists.”

Burrelli notes that data included in the report was extracted from the NSF’s Division of Science Resources Statistics and the Department of Education and Institute of Education Sciences’ National Center for Education Statistics.

She adds that smaller institutions, which are sometimes overlooked, are also essential to preparing the country’s future science and engineering professionals.

“HBCUs are very prevalent among the top 50 baccalaureate-origin institutions,” Burrelli says. “But there are also other institutions, including research universities and other non-elite and non-research institutions, like the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, that are important.”

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