Written by: Reagan Flowers, Ph.D.
Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) provide culturally responsive environments and play an essential role in bringing together students who have had marginalized lived experiences.
Studies have shown that even though an equal number of Black students begin college majoring in STEM fields, they do not continue. A third of minority students with STEM majors end up changing to another area of study or leave school. None completion is due, in part, to the lack of culturally relevant support programs, encounters with implicit bias, and experiences with systemic racism. Historically black colleges and universities help fill the gaps that other schools do not.
As a graduate of two HBCU’s, my experience is a shared experience with other alumni. I am a first-generation college student, I nor my parents knew what to expect. The academic programs and student life environment at Texas Southern University and Prairie View A & M University were life-changing. I describe my experiences at these institutions as rigorous, standards-driven, demanding, soulful, caring, nurturing, experiential, uplifting, no-nonsense, and culturally relevant. My professors held me accountable; as a student, the expectation was that I would put in the work necessary to achieve excellence and complete my degree program. At graduation from these institutions, I felt prepared for whatever would come my way. I would not trade my HBCU experiences and wish that more Black students would complete, at a minimum, their undergraduate degree at an HBCU.
Now, we see historically Black colleges and universities take their efforts to yet another level. They are developing new STEM programs and increasing African American studies offerings. I am excited to share some of these efforts with you.
New Master’s Degrees in STEM
At C-STEM, we constantly work at ensuring underserved students excel in the careers of tomorrow. We primarily serve Pre K-12 students, all students deserving access to higher education programs that lead to high-growth STEM careers. Unfortunately, in science careers, the lack of diversity remains. New programs, specifically at historically Black colleges and universities, will make a tremendous difference in changing that narrative.
Coppin State University in Baltimore recently introduced two such programs. The first is a new master’s degree program in applied molecular biology and biochemistry. This degree includes studying infectious diseases, metabolic studies in various tissues and cell culture methodologies—Coppin institution of this type of degree can prepare Black students to conduct groundbreaking, life-changing research. Amid this ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and any other future viruses we may see, new programs like this are essential.
The other graduate degree Coppin introduced is a master’s degree in polymer and materials science. The program dives into materials, including plastics and fuels. Students can learn the skills to evolve everything from televisions to medical devices.
These degrees provide pathways for Black students to participate in science fields where they have been relatively absent because of the lack of access to opportunities. Think about how much has changed just in the last decade–heck, just last year. Our student’s futures are brighter with exposure to the right opportunities.
More Black Studies Programs
We have seen more African American studies programs forming the past year, both in highs schools and colleges. These courses are essential and complete the rest of the picture of what the American experience has been for Blacks.
Here in Houston, four universities have formed a Black studies consortium. The partnership includes two historically Black universities — Texas Southern University, where I earned my undergraduate degree, and Prairie View A & M University, where I earned a graduate degree. The other schools are Rice University and the University of Houston, all institutions C-STEM has partnered with and schools that have sent many talented interns our way.
It is great to see these universities take the lead in this effort, and C-STEM will support the consortium any way we can.
C-STEM is doing its part to honor African Americans’ long-lasting legacy in STEM through our plans to build a traveling Black history museum exhibit, thanks to a generous grant from the 400 Years of African American History Commission.
Black Colleges are Producing the STEM Talent Pipeline
I mentioned previously in this article, we have reached a level where the interest in STEM majors is as remarkable for Black students as for others. However, this is not translating to completion at most schools. At historically Black institutions, this picture looks a little different.
Historically Black Colleges and Universities make up just 3% of America’s higher education options, yet they produce 25% of African American graduates in STEM fields. These schools will continue to be essential in ensuring Black students complete STEM degrees.
It is even more exciting that these institutions continue to evolve, leading the way with new STEM degree programs and African American studies courses. We at C-STEM consider these higher education institutions crucial partners for the STEM community as a whole, and we cannot wait to see more new developments in the coming years and months.
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