Top young African-American scholars in science and engineering to meet in Monterey, Calif.

07/12/05

14-16 July

More than 50 young African-American scholars in science and engineering will convene in Monterey beginning Thursday evening for a conference that will focus not only on their research, but on the challenges they confront in seeking doctoral degrees and jobs.

The scholars are studying at some of the nation's best research universities under a program initiated by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation in 1992 and managed since 2003 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). They were selected for the Graduate Scholars Program after attending a historically black college or university and then given scholarships that would allow them to pursue a Ph.D.

Among the students at the conference will be eight who are earning their degrees this year, and more than 40 others who are still pursuing their Ph.Ds. Their fields of study range from mathematics to molecular biology, and from electrical engineering to applied physics.

What they share is the common challenge of jumping from a historically black college or university to graduate studies at high-profile research universities. Some make the transition seamlessly; others find that the struggle often faced by graduate students of every background is compounded by a sense of isolation or loneliness. The annual meeting of the Graduate Scholars Program provides a collegial setting for the discussion of those challenges and the most effective strategies for success.

The program is important because recent studies by AAAS and others have shown that the U.S. science and engineering labor pool is getting older and that interest in these fields among younger people has waned. In order to keep that labor force strong and globally competitive, many experts say, it will be essential to recruit and cultivate future scientists and engineers from the broadest possible pool of talent. Currently, however, African Americans comprise only a small percentage of the students earning advanced degrees in the science, technology and engineering fields.

Students in the Graduate Scholars Program are in the vanguard. Since its inception, some 147 fellowships have been awarded, and 41 of the scholars have gone on to receive Ph.Ds. Three scholars are expected to receive Ph.Ds by December 2005 and another 62 are still in the Ph.D pipeline.

They will be joined at the conference by several trailblazing scientists and educators who in the past confronted similar challenges: Norman Francis, president of Xavier University of Louisiana; James Stith, a vice president at the American Institute of Physics; and Shirley Malcom, director of AAAS Education and Human Resources and a 2003 winner of the National Academy of Sciences' Public Welfare Medal.

Among other speakers scheduled for the conference is Barry Gold, who leads the Packard Foundation's efforts to foster the emerging field of sustainability science. The Foundation is based in Los Altos, Calif.

The meeting will be held at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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