It's no secret that minorities are substantially underrepresented in the sciences, including computing, engineering, and mathematics. However, an innovative program that involves 13 universities and community colleges in Michigan is making its mark. In fact, it may serve as a model for the academic world.
MI-LSAMP, which stands for The Michigan Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation, has managed to boost the number of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) degrees awarded to minority students by nearly 50% over the last five years. No less important: It has increased overall enrollment in STEM curriculum.
"There is a growing need for a well-trained technical workforce. Minority populations, including African-Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans — have been traditionally underrepresented in terms of earning degrees and within the workforce," says Jerry Caldwell, Ph.D., executive director of MI-LSAMP.
The MI-LSAMP program provides ongoing mentoring and internships to students through four universities — Wayne State, Western Michigan University, the University of Michigan, and Michigan State. A key focus is helping first-year students strengthen their technical and academic skills in mathematics, chemistry, and biology. In addition, existing STEM students go out into the field to speak to middle school, high school, and community college students about opportunities in the sciences.
"The peer mentoring component is extremely beneficial to younger students who might otherwise not be familiar with STEM curriculum or understand that they can pursue career options in these fields," Caldwell explains. An added advantage is that plugging minority STEM students into the mentoring process further cements their commitment and involvement in the program and the field, he notes.
The MI-LSAMP program was launched in 2005 with a funding grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). It is now in its second five-year cycle, with the NSF and the universities splitting the funding. Although the participating universities already had programs in place to boost minority enrollment, Caldwell says that by combining expertise and resources, everyone has benefited. "We are able to leverage resources to work more effectively and in a more cost effective way. We're able to share best practices," he explains.
Caldwell says the program's influence and impact are growing. MI-LSAMP has established a goal of increasing the number of STEM degrees to minorities by 100% over the second five-year span. He hopes to see other schools create or expand similar programs. "This program has the ability to change and improve people's lives," Caldwell says. "It's an investment in the future."
Samuel Greengard is an author and journalist based in West Linn, OR.
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