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Engineering receives $690,590 from Sloan for minority Ph.D. program

STANFORD -- The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation has awarded the School of Engineering $690,590 over five years to double the number of targeted minorities in the Ph.D. programs in electrical and mechanical engineering.

"If we are successful, it will increase by about 10 percent the number of African Americans, Chicano/Latinos and American Indians currently receiving doctorates in these fields in the nation as a whole," says Noe Lozano, associate dean for minority affairs at the school.

From the current year until 1998-99, the Sloan grant, combined with $734,000 from Stanford, will be used for several purposes: provide 10 new Ph.D. fellowships and 20 research assistantships for minority graduate students; reimburse faculty for making recruiting trips to other universities and colleges; provide 20 research fellowships for promising undergraduate minority students; and create a stronger support environment for minority Ph.D. students.

Currently, the electrical and mechanical engineering departments have 30 targeted minority Ph.D. students. Last year, the two departments awarded six degrees to African Americans, Chicano/Latinos and American Indians. That compares to a total of approximately 65 Ph.D.s granted nationwide in these fields.

"Ted Greenwood, the Sloan program officer who is responsible for our program within the foundation, singled out several aspects of the program that he and his colleagues at Sloan found particularly appealing," said Jim Gibbons, dean of the school. "In particular, he mentioned the track record that the departments have in producing minority Ph.D.s; the significant financial commitment on the part of the school and the university; and the large number of faculty who have been, and will continue to be, engaged in the training of minority Ph.D. students.

"We found Dr. Greenwood's comments especially pleasing because both faculty and staff throughout the school have worked long and hard to develop our minority program. We are particularly indebted to Noe Lozano and John Bravman, who developed a high-quality proposal and who have done a first-rate job in managing and developing our minority program over the last several years," Gibbons added.

According to Lozano, faculty are the key element in the program. "We have 32 faculty in these two departments who have mentored or are mentoring minority Ph.D. students. This level of faculty participation was no doubt a very attractive feature of our proposal to the Sloan Foundation, and continuing efforts of the faculty will of course be critical to our success in the future."

According to one such faculty member, Associate Professor Reginald E. Mitchell in mechanical engineering, the program will make it easier to recruit minority students who have master's degrees from other universities. "This has been a gap in our current recruitment program," he said.

A case in point is Gayle Ramdeen, now a post-master's student in mechanical engineering. Mitchell happened to notice that she had applied to Stanford, checked her out with her advisers at Pennsylvania State University and offered her a place in his laboratory. "If I hadn't done this, she probably would have gone someplace else," he said.

Joseph W. Goodman, professor and chair of electrical engineering and a longtime supporter of minority education efforts, said, "This gives us the opportunity to do a lot of things that we've wanted to do for a long time, but haven't had enough resources." Goodman was adviser to Ellen Ochoa, the first Chicana/Latina woman astronaut, who has been in space twice.

The new minority Ph.D. incentive program supports three types of recruitment.

To attract engineering students from other universities, including those that traditionally have large minority student populations, the program reimburses faculty for recruiting trips to other parts of the country. "For example, we have Stanford faculty members giving talks at traditionally black engineering schools like Howard,” Lozano said. “On these trips we also encourage them to talk to the students, so the students feel that they are getting the inside scoop about what Stanford is like, and so the faculty can identify students they would be interested in mentoring.”

In the last five years, the number of minority students in the engineering school's master's program has grown from 25 to close to 65, 35 of whom are in electrical and mechanical engineering. The best of these represent potential Ph.D. candidates. The program's fellowships will make it easier for faculty members to pick up additional minority master's students and give them an opportunity to demonstrate their abilities in the laboratory.

The third prong of the program uses undergraduate fellowships to identify promising juniors and seniors and give them laboratory experience. This also will have the added benefit of providing an early acquaintance with faculty members. "There are two kinds of learning: classroom and laboratory. Some students do better in the lab than they do in the classroom," Lozano said.

Another important component is strengthening support for minority students. Nationwide about 50 percent of all students enrolled in Ph.D. engineering programs drop out. At Stanford, the number who quit is only about 25 percent - the same for both minorities and non-minorities - but the school hopes to reduce this even further. To do so, the program will create new opportunities for minority graduate students to meet informally, so they can discuss matters of mutual interest. There will be special weekly seminars for the group during the fall and biweekly meetings for the rest of the year. The gatherings will introduce the students to faculty members and representatives of engineering companies, as well as give them a forum for discussing various aspects of graduate life.

"Psychosocial factors contribute to students' success. They need a feeling of belonging. They need a safety net. And we are trying to provide it," Lozano said.

Currently, less than 2 percent of all engineering degrees are going to underrepresented minorities nationwide. "This is a measure of how sizable the challenge is for minority engineering education. We cannot be successful without help from our friends in philanthropy, government and industry," Lozano said.



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