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NSF Awards Diversity Grant to USC

Jean Morrison, associate vice provost for graduate programs at USC, and Dean Campbell, project director for the NSF grant, plan to identify and recruit promising undergraduates.

Photo/Irene Fertik

Why do so many top, underrepresented students go into law, business or medicine without considering a career in academia?

The National Science Foundation has awarded a two-year, $200,000 grant to USC, Stanford University, Texas A&M and the University of Texas at Austin to try to answer that question � and to encourage greater participation in academia by underrepresented groups.

“If the academy is going to wrestle with issues of social consequence, issues that are important to all sectors of society, then it becomes important to have people from all walks of life represented in the professoriate,” said Dean Campbell, assistant dean in the USC Graduate School and project director for the NSF grant.

“We really need to expand the pool of people who could consider getting a Ph.D.”

To that end, Campbell and principal investigator Jean Morrison, associate vice provost for graduate programs at USC, plan to identify and recruit promising undergraduates for a process of “professionalization” that would guide the transition from student to teacher.

Perhaps more important than recruiting new students, Campbell said, is the issue of how to best prepare students already at USC for junior faculty positions.

The problem of under-representation of minority groups in academia is widespread. Only about five percent of faculty at U.S. research universities are Hispanic or African American, according to Campbell.

“The number of people who are eligible to go get a graduate degree is much higher,” he said.

A second goal of the NSF grant is to encourage the sharing of best practices and initiatives between the participating universities.

One such initiative is the Ronald E. McNair Scholars Program, which Campbell directs. He calls it an enrichment program that tries to “socialize” talented undergraduates to the academic research culture.

Funded by the U.S. Department of Education, the McNair program includes a summer research institute where students work with faculty members on research projects proposed by the students themselves.

McNair students also participate in workshops and colloquia on topics such as “Writing a research proposal” and “Developing a relationship with a faculty mentor.”

In addition, on April 22 USC hosted the 16th annual California Forum for Diversity in Graduate Education, one of the largest graduate recruitment fairs in the nation for students from underrepresented groups.

Approximately 1,000 pre-selected, academically outstanding students from colleges and universities throughout Southern California participated, along with representatives from over 100 of the country’s leading graduate schools.

The forum included general and discipline-based career workshops as well as in-person interviews with recruiters.

The problem of under-representation can be solved, Campbell said, just as it has been in other professions.

“If you look at law and you look at business, one of the realities is these fields have made inroads.”

NSF Awards Diversity Grant to USC

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