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Minority Serving Institutions (MSI) Program

Since the spring of 2005 SURA has been exploring ways to enhance minority representation in science, particularly in physics, through a SURA Minority Serving Institutions (MSI) program aimed at providing increased opportunities for minority students to enter and succeed in PhD programs. This SURA program is led by Professor David Ernst of Vanderbilt University, who recommended that SURA embark on the MSI program based on the successful efforts of Fisk University and Vanderbilt to partner in bringing more minorities into the Vanderbilt physics PhD program.

Background: At the end of 2004 David Ernst suggested that SURA consider an initiative to increase minority representation in science at the PhD level, particularly in physics, by building a consortium of research universities, including Minority Serving Institutions (MSI’s) with significant research programs or an interest in expanding their research programs. The primary goals of this initiative would be to (1) build bridge programs to transition students more effectively into PhD programs, and (2) build capacity at MSI’s to increase the number and quality of bachelor degree recipients in physics at these institutions. MSI’s include both Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU’s) and Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI’s). Dr. Ernst’s proposal was based on Vanderbilt’s experience in working with Fisk to enhance the production of minority PhD’s by phasing Fisk students into the Vanderbilt physics PhD program.

An exploratory MSI workshop was organized by SURA at the end of April 2005 at Vanderbilt, co-hosted by Vanderbilt and Fisk, with attendance from half a dozen MSI’s plus Vanderbilt, Louisiana State University and the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. Two basic programmatic approaches emerged from the workshop:

  • Educational Enhancement: Forming a group of universities including MSI’s that offer at least a bachelors degree in physics and have the group construct a mutually supportive system that would provide students with a variety of pathways to the PhD.

  • Research Enhancement: Developing joint, multi-university research projects that can strengthen the capability and the capacity of MSI’s to conduct significant research in support of their undergraduate and graduate programs.

Following the April workshop, Dr. Ernst drafted a request for solicitation of interest in the program and SURA distributed it widely to all MSI’s in the SURA region and to physics chairs at SURA member universities and at selected other institutions. The SURA request elicited positive responses from several majority universities and from additional MSI’s interested in being part of the SURA initiative. A follow up meeting was held at the SURA corporate office on August 4, 2005 with significant representation from both majority universities and MSI’s. Combining attendance from the two meetings these institutions have already shown an interest in being involved in the SURA MSI program:

  • MSI’s: Fisk, Grambling, Hampton, North Carolina A&T, Prairie View A&M, Tennessee State, Texas Southern, Texas-Brownsville, Texas A&M-Kingsville, and Xavier of Louisiana.

  • Majority universities: Auburn, Baylor, Florida, Georgia State, George Washington, Louisiana State University, Louisiana Tech, Notre Dame, South Carolina, Tennessee-Knoxville and Vanderbilt.

Representatives of the Department of Energy participated in both meetings. Faculty at several other universities not represented at the meetings have also expressed an interest in the program.

Additional meetings on the program are planned in the relatively near future and will be posted to the SURA MSI program website.


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