Virginia Tech among eight schools working to increase underrepresented students pursuing science and engineering

BLACKSBURG, Va., June 28, 2007 – Virginia Tech is among eight Virginia and North Carolina colleges and universities working together on a new National Science Foundation sponsored program to increase the number of students from underrepresented groups who pursue degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Supported by a five-year, $5 million grant from the National Science Foundation's Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP) Program, the initiative, termed VA-NC AMP, involves state universities and historically black colleges and universities.

In addition to the Virginia Tech, the coalition includes Virginia universities University of Virginia, George Mason University, and Virginia Commonwealth University, and Bennett College, Elizabeth City State University, Johnson C. Smith University and St. Augustine's College from North Carolina.

The initiative's primary goal is to double the average number of students from underrepresented minority populations graduating from the alliance schools with degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the so-called "STEM" fields - raising the number of these graduates from 525 to 1,050. The grant will enable the schools to focus on recruitment, retention and enhancement activities by sharing best practices in learning and research and coordinating enrichment activities for faculty and students. Upon successful completion and evaluation of the program, the alliance will be eligible for a second five-year phase targeting graduate students.

The University of Virginia's Office for Diversity and Equity and School of Engineering and Applied Science will lead the cooperative program. Each of the other schools has a campus coordinator and advisory group involved in planning, assisting with and implementing program activities. Karen Eley Sanders, assistant provost and director of academic support services, will lead the Virginia Tech effort.

Underrepresented groups vary from region to region; the VA-NC AMP will specifically aim to reach African-Americans, Hispanic Americans and Native Americans. Demographic data from the alliance institutions show that of almost 4,500 STEM degrees conferred from 2001 to 2005, 10 percent went to African-Americans, 2.4 percent to Hispanic Americans and 0.2 percent to Native Americans.

In North Carolina, 21.6 percent of the population is African-American, 4.7 percent is Hispanic, and 1.2 percent is Native American. In Virginia, the percentage of Hispanic Americans is the same, and the African-American population is comparable, at 19.6 percent. A smaller percentage is identified as Native American, 0.3 percent.

Beyond increased recruitment efforts, alliance institutions will also offer a summer transition program for new college students. The students will have opportunities to participate in alliance-sponsored activities, including research experiences, internships and externships, and faculty or peer mentoring. Some schools will offer distance-learning courses that will expand academic offerings at minimal cost. In addition, the alliance will organize faculty development seminars and student research workshops and colloquia.