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Minority PH.D Program receives $3.7 million

 NASHVILLE, Tenn.  A unique collaboration between Fisk and
Vanderbilt universities that is poised to become the nation¹s top source of
Ph.D.s in physics and astronomy awarded to underrepresented minorities has
received a major boost from three federal grants totaling $3.7 million.
The Fisk-Vanderbilt Masters-to-PhD program was established in
2004. In just five years the program has attracted 31 underrepresented
minority students, 60 percent of whom are women, and has become the nation¹s
top producer of blacks earning master¹s degrees in physics. One of the new
grants will be used to strengthen the astronomy/astrophysics infrastructure
at Fisk, a historically black university, as well as increase recruitment
and retention of underrepresented students. The second grant will fund the
expansion of the program to a second historically black institution,
Delaware State University, and expand the program from its current focus on
astronomy and astrophysics to include materials science. The third grant
will provide generous fellowships to support the students participating in
the program.
"We are pleased to receive this federal support for Fisk,
Vanderbilt and Delaware State students which reflects the quality of our
existing programs," said Fisk President Hazel R. O'Leary. "With this funding
we will expand our existing successful collaboration between Fisk and
Vanderbilt in astronomy and astrophysics to increase opportunity and build
on our consistent reputation for producing both women scientists and
scientists of color for over a century."
Each year for the past seven years, U.S. universities have
awarded an average of 333 master¹s degrees in physics, astronomy and
astrophysics to women and underrepresented ethnic minorities and 25 Ph.D.¹s
in astronomy and astrophysics. That averages out to one woman or minority
Ph.D. degree every two years for the 53 institutions that grant these
degrees. For underrepresented ethnic minorities alone, the average is one
Ph.D. every 10 years. Since 2006 Fisk University has awarded about a third
of the nation¹s African American masters in physics. Such small numbers mean
that a single program, like the Bridge Program, can have a significant
"Our vision is to enhance the scope and impact of our
Masters-to-PhD Bridge Program by expanding it to include all science,
technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines," said Arnold
Burger, professor of physics at Fisk. ³This reinforces Fisk as a pipeline to
advanced degrees for extremely talented students.²
"Through this partnership, more students will have the
opportunity to develop valuable, marketable skills at the interface of
astronomy, materials science and high-performance computing,² added Keivan
Stassun, associate professor of astronomy at Vanderbilt and adjunct
professor of physics at Fisk who is one of the program¹s architects. ³The
result will be enhanced research capability at both Fisk and Vanderbilt, as
well as a cadre of highly skilled astrophysics Ph.D. students who will
significantly enhance the diversity and quality of the nation's astronomy
and astrophysics workforce."
The largest grant, totaling $1.8 million, is directed to Fisk to
support the Graduate Opportunities for Fisk Astronomy and Astrophysics
Research (GO-FAAR) project. The funds will be used to strengthen Fisk's
research infrastructure in astronomy and astrophysics. It will also be used
to increase recruitment, retention and degree attainment by underrepresented
students. Funding for the project comes from the National Science
Foundation's Partnerships in Astronomy & Astrophysics Research and Education
(PAARE) program.
The second NSF grant of $1.2 million will fund the expansion of
the Bridge Program to include Delaware State University. Students from all
three institutions will collaborate in graduate research and instruction and
receive full funding support. This grant comes from NSF's Innovation through
Institutional Integration project, which supports initiatives that enable
faculty, administrators and others in institutions to think and act
strategically about the creative integration of NSF-funded awards. The grant
enables the Bridge program to expand into the field of materials science,
which also suffers from extremely low minority representation.
In addition to these grants, the program has received $784,000
from the Department of Education¹s Graduate Assistance in Areas of National
Need program. This grant will provide attractive fellowships ($30,000 per
year plus tuition) for graduate students in science disciplines deemed
essential to the nation¹s economic competitiveness. It will support six to
seven new graduate students per year, who will be evenly apportioned among
those entering the Bridge program and those entering directly into the
Vanderbilt Ph.D. program.
³This significant investment by the federal government is a
dramatic recognition of the success of the joint Fisk/Vanderbilt program,²
said Vanderbilt Provost Richard McCarty. ³The complementary strengths of
Fisk¹s master degree and Vanderbilt¹s Ph.D. programs have combined in a
remarkable fashion that provides minority students with the support,
encouragement and the skills that they need to succeed in the physical
Fisk University is a coeducational university in Nashville,
Tenn., that is grounded in liberal arts and is ranked fourth among 81
schools listed in U.S. News and World Report's "Historically Black Colleges
and Universities: Top Schools." A recent National Science Foundation study
revealed that Fisk alumni earned more doctorate degrees in the natural
sciences than African American graduates from any other college or
university in the nation. According to the National Center for Education
Statistics, Fisk is ranked No. 1 of all moderately selective colleges when
it comes to graduating low-income students.
Vanderbilt University is a private research university of
approximately 6,500 undergraduates and 5,300 graduate and professional
students. Founded in 1873, the university comprises 10 schools, a public
policy institute, a distinguished medical center and The Freedom Forum First
Amendment Center. Vanderbilt, ranked as one of the nation¹s top
universities, offers undergraduate programs in the liberal arts and
sciences, engineering, music, education and human development, and a full
range of graduate and professional degrees. For more news about Vanderbilt,
visit the Vanderbilt News Service homepage on the Internet at

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