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Research Infrastructure Challenges For Graduate Programs In Stem Disciplines At Minority Institutions

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

NAFP Panel Discussion

Tagged Division

Minorities in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.1239.1 - 12.1239.8

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Paper Authors

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Mohan Aggarwal Alabama A&M University

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Benjamin Penn NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center

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Ravindra Lal Alabama A&M University

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Research Infrastructure Challenges for Graduate Programs in STEM Disciplines at Minority Institutions


It is much more challenging to perform experimental research functions at many minority institutions, because of lack of adequate research infrastructure. This is especially true if one wishes to initiate and implement masters and doctoral degree programs in physics. In the present paper, an attempt is made to discuss the various hurdles encountered by the authors in the establishment of Master’s and Doctoral degree programs in physics at Alabama A&M University, one of the HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities). The department got no special or necessary treatment and faculty members were asked to teach as much course work as any other undergraduate department on the campus. It was very hard to convince university administration that giving less teaching load to research producing department faculty, shall culminate in abundant funding for the future years. This scenario created an extra heavy pressure on the faculty to continue the program. Some of the challenges included the resistance of some faculty and administrators to change, lack of sufficient release time for research producing faculty, and potential variation in funding or support with changes in the state education budget proration or members of the administration. In spite of the indirect cost recovery, very little infrastructure facilities was provided and the federal funding agencies did not want to interfere in the administration of the university. Various issues of recruiting and mentoring minority students, retention in the STEM disciplines as well as research infrastructure challenges at an HBCU university are presented.


Alabama A&M University is one of the HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) and established a separate department of physics in 1978 that used to be Department of Mathematics and Physics in the School of Arts and Sciences. It offered Bachelors of Science degree with a major in physics, service courses such as physical science and other basic physics courses for engineering and other disciplines in the University. Later in the year 1978, one of the authors, Dr. R. B. Lal was awarded a major NASA grant to grow crystals in the microgravity of space. It may be mentioned that this NASA project was awarded even before the maiden voyage of the Space Shuttle. This achievement provided the inspiration and enthusiasm to the physics faculty to pursue a graduate program in the department. Fortunately, various federal agencies offer a wide range of funding opportunities for every aspect of initiating research that include young faculty awards to initiate research, funds to equip the undergraduate and graduate laboratories, major instrumentation awards for research equipment, research scholarships for undergraduate and graduate students for their studies leading to Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctoral degrees in physics. Many of the faculty were motivated to increase their writing and submission of proposals to various agencies such as National Science Foundation (NSF) and the U.S. Army and several of these were funded.

Aggarwal, M., & Penn, B., & Lal, R. (2007, June), Research Infrastructure Challenges For Graduate Programs In Stem Disciplines At Minority Institutions Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii.

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