By Rolando Garcia
Natural Sciences and Mathematics Communications
The relatively low numbers of minorities pursuing degrees in science and engineering is a problem for universities nationwide but at the University of Houston a remarkable success story is unfolding.
A decade-old initiative to recruit and retain black and Hispanic science students at UH has not only achieved impressive results but is now – thanks to millions from the National Science Foundation – entering an even more ambitious phase.
The Houston-Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (H-LSAMP), a federally-funded program run by UH’s College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, began 10 years ago. Since then the number of minority undergraduates receiving science or engineering degrees from UH has risen 50 percent.
Through financial assistance, tutoring, enrichment workshops and mentoring, H-LSAMP and the affiliated Scholar Enrichment Program (SEP) recruit and retain minority science and engineering majors at UH.
This year, the NSF awarded a $3.5 million grant to continue this program for undergraduates. Additionally, the NSF announced another $1 million grant for UH to increase the number of black and Hispanic Ph.D.’s in science, building on the university’s success with minority undergraduates.
“As one of the most ethnically diverse universities in America, UH is uniquely positioned to be a leader in producing more minority researchers, scientists and engineers,” said NSM Dean John Bear.
SEP Students Thrive
Ensuring UH’s science programs better reflect the rich diversity of Houston has long been a priority for Bear, who helped establish H-LSAMP a decade ago. The program now helps thousands of UH students from diverse ethnicities each year. While a few hundred benefit from SEP’s full offering of mentoring and enrichment activities, many more participate in SEP’s free tutoring and workshops which are open to any student taking a math or science course.
Mark White, a senior biology major, credits the array of assistance offered by H-LSAMP and SEP with helping thrive at UH and his story illustrates how in this collaborative learning community, students don’t just receive help – they give help too.
White’s participation in H-LSAMP began before his freshman semester with the Summer Bridge program, a summer crash course in college algebra and pre-calculus that allows new freshmen to hit the ground running in the fall.
Students also get an early lesson in good study habits that helps ease the transition to college life, White said. Early in his college career he also benefited from the student-led workshops SEP offers for core-level math and science classes.
Like many SEP students, White excelled and now as an upperclassman he teaches the SEP classes he once attended as a freshman.
“It’s a really satisfying feeling to help students who are in the same position you were in a couple years ago,” White said.
White will graduate this spring to pursue graduate studies in biology and thanks to the SEP stipends he received for teaching workshops, he will graduate debt-free. White’s success is not uncommon – nearly half of SEP graduates go on to graduate or professional school.
With the new NSF grant, H-LSAMP will not only continue existing programs but will also focus on increasing the number of students involved in undergraduate research as well as sending some for research and study opportunities abroad.