Undergraduate Research

Colleges Collaborate to Encourage Minority Students in Biological Sciences

DATE: 3-31-03

CONTACT: James Zimmerman, (864) 654-1141
E-mail: jkzmm@clemson.edu

Barbara J. Speziale, (864) 656-1550
E-mail: bjspz@clemson.edu

WRITER: Peter Kent, (864) 656-0937
E-mail: pkent@clemson.clemson.edu


CLEMSON -- The sciences, especially the biological sciences, will play a vital role in the state's future as biotechnology and bioengineering emerge as economic development drivers. Clemson University and three of South Carolina's historically black colleges -- Benedict, Claflin and Morris -- are working to encourage more minority students to pursue biological science careers.

Funded by a $1.8 million award from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Undergraduate Biological Sciences Program, the collaborating colleges and universities will hold a colloquium April 5 at Benedict College to showcase the research work of minority students seeking science careers.

"This project provides money to help support undergraduate research," said Barbara Speziale, a Clemson associate dean and principal investigator administering the four-year Hughes award. "Last fall, when the award was made, faculty from these schools, plus Clemson, submitted requests to the SC LIFE program (the local name for the full award) for student research funding. There were two requests from Morris and Claflin, three from Benedict, and 27 from Clemson-- all were funded."

Students with funded projects are required to make presentations at the colloquium. Researchers will give 10-minute oral presentations followed by a group poster session.

Biology has been more successful than many other sciences in enrolling African-American, Hispanic and Native American students as undergraduates. Yet, the number of these students who major in biology remains comparatively low, according to Hughes data. Of the 52,314 bachelor's degrees awarded in biology in 1994, only 2,980 (5.7 percent) went to African-Americans, 2,901 (5.5 percent) to Hispanics and 248 (.5 percent) to Native Americans. The numbers of underrepresented minorities who major in biology have risen over the past decade, however, especially during the last few years.

Educators whose programs seek to attract minorities in biology say there is no magic formula for success. Experience shows that there are actions that can help produce results:
  • start early to motivate students toward science
  • provide support to help students feel a sense of belonging in the sciences
  • encourage students to help each other succeed
  • set standards high and offer support to reach them
  • pay competitive stipends for research assistants
  • respect social differences
  • realize success in building minority participation is a long-term effort.
Additional information on Howard Hughes Medical Institute's funding program is available at http://www.hhmi.org/.