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How Do Departments Support Their Underrepresented Minority Doctoral Students? Are They Doing Enough?

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2021 CoNECD


Virtual - 1pm to 5pm Eastern Time Each Day

Publication Date

January 24, 2021

Start Date

January 24, 2021

End Date

January 28, 2021

Conference Session

CoNECD Session : Day 2 Slot 6 Technical Session 1

Tagged Topics

Diversity and CoNECD Paper Submissions

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Paper Authors


Rebecca Brent Education Designs, Inc

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Rebecca Brent is President of Education Designs, Inc., a consulting firm located in Chapel Hill, N.C. She is a certified program evaluator and a faculty development consultant. Brent received her B.A. from Millsaps College in Jackson, Miss., her M.Ed. from Mississippi State University, and her Ed.D. from Auburn University. She was an Associate Professor of education at East Carolina University before starting her consulting firm in 1996.

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Keith A. Schimmel P.E. North Carolina A&T State University Orcid 16x16

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Keith Schimmel is a Professor of Applied Engineering Technology, Director of the Applied Science and Technology PhD Program, and Education Director for the NSF CREST Bioenergy Center at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University.

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Marcia Gumpertz North Carolina State University at Raleigh Orcid 16x16

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Marcia Gumpertz is professor of statistics at North Carolina State University. She serves as PI of the AGEP-NC Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate - North Carolina Alliance project.

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A major barrier to increasing the percentage of underrepresented minority (URM) faculty in STEM fields is the small number of URM applicants for academic positions. One factor contributing to this situation is that the two-year attrition rate of URM doctoral students is nearly 50%, substantially greater than the rate for non-URM students at most institutions. Many efforts have been made to decrease the attrition, most involving direct work with doctoral students and others concentrating on institutional changes such naming a high-level administrator to coordinate recruitment and retention efforts. Often lacking in these efforts are attempts to change faculty attitudes and practices that negatively affect student retention. Three public universities including one HBCU are currently carrying out a five-year project to develop and pilot-test a department-level process to fill this gap.

Why the focus on the department level? Since URM students spend most of their time in their departments as they take classes, attend seminars, conduct research, and interact informally with department faculty, staff, and other graduate students, the climate they experience and the support they receive can have a major impact on their success. In addition, changes in a department can last well beyond the end of a grant. When interventions address students directly, once they graduate there may be no lasting change in the department. When faculty attitudes and mentoring practices change, on the other hand, the changes may last and continue to help students succeed long after the grant expires. The project seeks to help department faculty increase their understanding of the issues facing underrepresented minorities in doctoral programs, identify and remedy the departmental practices that may be hindering URM student success, and examine and improve their own mentoring practices.

In the project, six cohorts of faculty members and both URM and non-URM doctoral students—two cohorts at each participating university—will be assembled and surveyed. The faculty members will be asked how their departments address recruitment and retention of URM students, how they personally support and mentor their URM students, and how welcoming and supportive of URM students they perceive their department to be. The students will be asked to express their level of satisfaction with their coursework and their relationships with faculty and other graduate students, describe the learning opportunities and mentoring they have received, and discuss how welcoming and supportive of URM students their departments have been.

To initiate the gathering of baseline information, the first cohort—79 faculty members, 16 URM students, and 94 non-URM students from six STEM departments at one of the universities—was surveyed. This presentation will report and discuss the results.

Brent, R., & Schimmel, K. A., & Gumpertz, M. (2021, January), How Do Departments Support Their Underrepresented Minority Doctoral Students? Are They Doing Enough? Paper presented at 2021 CoNECD, Virtual - 1pm to 5pm Eastern Time Each Day . 10.18260/1-2--36094

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