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The HBCU/MSI Research Summit: Building Relationships and Exploring the Process of Inter-Institutional Partnership Between a PWI and HBCUs and MSIs

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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 2 Technical Session 4

Tagged Topics

Diversity and CoNECD Paper Submissions

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Paper Authors


Yousef Jalali Virginia Tech

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Yousef Jalali is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech. He received a B.S. and M.S. in Chemical Engineering and M.Eng. in Energy Systems Engineering. His research interests include interaction between critical thinking, imagination, and ethical reasoning, interpersonal and interinstitutional collaboration, diversity, equity, and inclusion, systems thinking, and chemical engineering learning systems. Yousef taught chemical engineering courses for a few years in his home country, Iran, and first-year engineering courses for several semesters at Virginia Tech. He has provided service and leadership in different capacities at Lehigh University and Virginia Tech.

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Shernita Lee Virginia Tech

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Dr. Shernita Lee is the Assistant Dean and Director of the Graduate School's Office of Recruitment, Diversity, and Inclusion at Virginia Tech. She holds a BS in mathematics from Alabama State University and a PhD from Virginia Tech in genetics, bioinformatics, and computational biology. Lee is passionate about creating a diverse and inclusive environment for graduate students, improving graduate student retention, aiding in the navigation of challenges graduate students encounter, and directing students to university/departmental resources and allies to help them successfully complete their degree.

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Justin Grimes Virginia Tech

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Dr. Justin Grimes currently serves as Assistant Director for the Office of Recruitment, Diversity, and Inclusion for the Graduate School at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Dr. Grimes research interests include the marginalization and socialization of black doctoral students in Graduate programs, motivation of Black men to pursue doctorates in education, mentorship within Student Affairs for Black Student Affairs Professionals, and the barriers and pathways to success for low-income, first-generation college students in the Southern United States.

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Background The HBCU/MSI Research Summit is a collaborative effort initiated in 2016 to facilitate inter-institutional partnerships between Virginia Tech, a Predominantly White Institution (PWI), and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and other Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs). Each year, students and faculty from HBCUs and MSIs are invited to Virginia Tech for a two-day program. The major objectives of the summit is to: 1) develop on-campus opportunities for visiting undergraduate and master’s students to learn about advanced degree programs and research opportunities; 2) facilitate in-person interaction among faculty to build relationships and explore potential opportunities to initiate and foster collaborations; and 3) to facilitate discussion about shared degree programs and inter-institutional agreements. As part of the initiative, the program offers several workshops for students to attend and provides a unique context for faculty to engage in discussion on partnerships and explore research and teaching opportunities.

In 2018, a total of 178 persons attended the program representing 17 institutions, including fifteen HBCUs, one Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI), and one Predominantly Black Institution (PBI). Considering the number of the guests in different disciplines, the summit is geared mostly to engineering and science.

The program organizers initiated a research study to evaluate the impact of the program and explore factors that may support and hinder interinstitutional partnerships. The purpose of this paper is to discuss the program and some preliminary results that captures the impact of the program and outline some initial indicators and recommendations that inform the development of similar programs at other institutions.

Structure of the paper In this paper, we discuss the program as a model for facilitating inter-institutional partnership and some preliminary results that capture the impact of the program with the focus on students’ engagement and recruitment. We elaborate on the importance of broadening participation, as one of the major objectives of the program. Then, we present the background and major elements of the initiative. Next, we briefly describe the 2018 program, outline the details of our evaluation strategies and present the results for the year 2018. Finally, we reflect on our experience and provide some initial recommendations that can inform the development of similar programs at other institutions.

Broadening participation One of the motivations of developing interinstitutional partnership is to create access for students to consider pursuing graduate degree programs. PWIs in general offer programs at graduate level that are not available in some of the minority-serving institutions. In addition, diversifying higher education may lead to enhancing learning and professional development. Although there has been attempts to address the issue of underrepresentation of different groups including African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans, the overall picture is not promising. Among 3 million students enrolled in the graduate programs in Fall 2018, Black students represented 12%, Hispanic students represented 10%, and American Indian/Alaska Native about 0.2% of the total number of students---White students represented 53% of the total enrollment in Fall 2018 (Hussar et al. 2020). There is no doubt that such difference is connected with historical and cultural foundations of the society, and in particular historical place of institutions, which centers around serving and educating White population. Beyond external drivers of diversifying, there is a need to make deliberate effort to provide supportive and inclusive atmosphere.

There have been some initiatives concerned with broadening participation of underrepresented groups. One such effort is the partnership between Vanderbilt University and Fisk University, the Fisk-Vanderbilt Masters-to-PhD Bridge Program (Stassun et al, 2010). Students accepted in this program have access to additional coursework and/or research experience and instructional opportunities at both institutions. They also interact with faculty and receive deliberate support and mentorship. The program focuses on preparing students for PhD studies. Currently, students can obtain a master’s degree at Fisk University in physics, biology, or chemistry. Overall, the program demonstrates the importance of inclusivity in addition to diversifying higher education. Yet, a more comprehensive program that involves more than 30 institutions of different types is the Leadership Alliance (Ghee et al. 2014). One of the key aspects of this consortium is 8-10 weeks of summer research experience. Students from member MSIs accepted for the experience in a research institution carry out a research project, receive mentorship, and gain research and professional skills. These programs and other similar ones have the potential to build capacity for transformation of higher education and the workforce.

The HBCU/MSI Research Summit The summit involves Virginia Tech Faculty and faculty/students from HBCUs/MSIs. In 2018, the program was centered on “building partnerships to establish, expand, and improve research initiatives, resources accessibility, and inclusion efforts”. At the institutional level, it is important for “buy-in” from other entities beyond the graduate school who manages and organizes this event. To ensure an equal opportunity for all campus partners to be involved, invitations are sent to the Dean of each College and Director of each Research Institute. This yielded a financial commitment from different units. Without the financial and representative support from others, the summit would not have the same impact, size, or experience for its participants. The summit is highlighted in three sections to describe the planning team, invitation process, and the structure.

Program evaluation We initiated a study to explore participants’ experiences in the program and track the outcomes of the program, both for the students and faculty. This study has been approved by the Institutional Review Board at Virginia Tech. The major means for data collection included a post-program survey and individual, virtual interviews. All participants received an invitation to complete the survey. To better track the impact of the program, we included a question to identify those who are interested to participate in an interview. For the program in 2018, we only invited HBCU/MSI faculty who expressed interest. We have continued the same procedures in 2019 with two major changes. One of those changes was a follow-up survey that we distributed to faculty collaborators. This survey was developed and incorporated to take a step towards exploring factors that influence existence and persistence of collaborative relationships among pairs of faculty. HBCUs/MSIs faculty and the Virginia Tech faculty received an invitation to complete the survey. The second change included sending invitations to HBCU/MSI students for interview in addition to faculty participants. As of fall 2020, we are still in the process of collecting data for the year 2019.

Recruiting students to consider pursuing graduate degrees at the host institution is among the aims of the event. Participants can learn more about their program of interest through visiting lab/research locations for each department, talking with departmental faculty, and meeting with current students in the department. The researchers sought to learn more about the impact the program has on students' desires to pursue a graduate degree. Example of questions included: "How has the program influenced your thoughts about going to graduate school?"

Respondents offered a significant number of comments, which provided further insight into addressing HBCU/MSI student recruitment to Virginia Tech. Overall, respondents shared an appreciation for attending the event. Through offering post-event comments, respondents were able to reflect and refine their plans for pursuing research collaborations or graduate degrees with departments present at the program.

From the limited data that we collected, it appears that the initiative was somewhat effective in terms of creating a context for inviting students to consider graduate degree programs and research opportunities at PWI which in turn leads to broadening participation. We are hopeful to have a better understanding of students’ experiences who participated in the program in the year 2019 as we have invited them for virtual interview. The question still remains about the support structure that the PWI can provide for these potential students who will join a new environment.

References Ghee, M., Collins, D., Wilson, V., & Pearson, W. (2014). The Leadership Alliance: twenty years of developing a diverse research workforce, Peabody Journal of Education, 89 (3), 347-367.

Hussar, B., Zhang, J., Hein, S., Wang, K., Roberts, A., Cui, J., Smith, M., Mann, F.B., Barmer, A., and Dilig, R. (2020). The condition of education 2020 (NCES 2020-144). U.S. Department of Education. National Center for Education Statistics.

Knight, L., Davenport, E., Green-Powell, P., & Hilton, A.A. (2014). An analysis of historically Black colleges and universities student retention and attrition efforts. International Journal of Humanities Social Sciences and Education, 1(8), 123–138.

Moore, C.M., Webb, S.F., Smith, C.V., Lacy, M., & Martin, T. (2018). Telling a Story of Student Success at HBCUs: Barriers for Researchers at a PWI. In Brown, M. C., & Bartee, R. S. D. (Eds.), Models of success: How historically black colleges and universities survive the economic recession (pp. 21.33). Information Age.

Stassun, K.G., Burger, A., & Lange, S.E. (2010). The Fisk-Vanderbilt master-to-PhD bridge program: A model for broadening participation of underrepresented groups in the physical sciences through effective partnerships with minority-serving institutions, Journal of Geoscience Education, 58(3), pp. 135-144.

Jalali, Y., & Lee, S., & Grimes, J. (2021, January), The HBCU/MSI Research Summit: Building Relationships and Exploring the Process of Inter-Institutional Partnership Between a PWI and HBCUs and MSIs Paper presented at 2021 CoNECD, Virtual - 1pm to 5pm Eastern Time Each Day . 10.18260/1-2--36129

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