University of Connecticut Seeks to Recruit Minority Students to Expand Science Education
As it seeks to expand science education, the University of Connecticut is trying to reach more minority students and high schoolers whose parents did not attend college. A recruitment program backed by the National Science Foundation is aimed at helping Connecticut and the United States compete in global markets.
It is being funded by a four-year, $1.5 million grant from the NSF, which has warned that the United States could be at a competitive disadvantage globally in developing new technologies if it fails to bring more students into the sciences, particularly the natural sciences.
Hedley Freake, a professor of nutritional science at UConn, says the key to reversing that trend is to tap into student populations underrepresented in higher education and particularly in science. Those populations include minorities, students whose parents did not go to college and children from lower-income families.
The NSF grant to Freake will help launch a program between UConn and community colleges to provide students with academic support and encouragement to pursue a career in the natural sciences. It also includes mentoring.
The three participating community colleges are Three Rivers in Norwich, Quinebaug Valley in Killingly and Manchester Community College. The grant program will be extended to a fifth year, with an additional $500,000, if it attracts students and keeps them in college.
Fields of study include ecology, geology, chemistry, physics, astronomy and any biology discipline.
The program allows students to take core science courses at the community college level for two years, paying a fraction of what tuition at UConn would cost. Successful students may later enter the university as juniors.
Freake said many potential future scientists become intimidated in high school by the challenge of obtaining a science degree or fail to receive the education needed to succeed at a university.
“The key piece is providing them the support they need to succeed,” he said. “That will include tutoring services, freshman experience courses, mentor relationships and close academic advising.”
Freake said he expects the program will attract more minority and low-income students to the natural sciences, but it is not open to anyone.
“I served on a task force that had the goal of trying to attract minority faculty members. But I came to realize that unless you have more minority graduates and undergraduates, you’re not going to increase your faculty where you need to,” he said. “So that’s the central issue for me.”
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