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HBCU Presidents' Summit on STEM Supported by Federal Agencies

Image associated with the HBCU Presidents' Summit on STEM Supported by Federal Agencies news item

Release Date: Mar 15, 2016

Representatives from some of the nation's foremost agencies weighed in on the impact of the Presidents' Summit on STEM held at Alabama State University.

The HBCU Presidents' Summit on STEM, hosted at Alabama State University from March 13 to 15, was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and supported by several other government agencies, including the Department of Energy (DoE).

During a news interview, three representatives of those agencies spoke about the importance of the summit.

Dr. Sylvia James

Division of Human Resource Development, National Science Foundation
Sylvia James


Why did the National Science Foundation fund this summit?

The National Science Foundation has been investing in education since the agency was created by an act of Congress in 1950. Within the Division of Human Resources, there are many programs that focus on broadening participation in the STEM workforce. We recognize that that is critical for the future of the country, that we have a workforce in science, technology, engineering and mathematics that reflects the diversity of the nation. As part of that, the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Undergraduate Program…has a number of programs or tracks…which enable HBCUs to strengthen their faculty, their students, the curriculum within the undergraduate STEM program and ensure that these students are well-prepared to enter the STEM workforce.

What kind of results has the NSF seen from its investments in the nation’s HBCUs?

I would say that what we see in terms of the return on investment in supporting HBCUs is reflected in our periodic program evaluations that we have…the most recent evaluation in 2012 showed that students who participate in the programs that are supported by NSF are much better prepared in terms of their outcomes and their abilities to compete and they have a stronger track record in terms of….recruitment, retention, persistence and graduation in the STEM programs.

Describe the new program that the NSF has launched regarding STEM?

One of the things that I mentioned to the presidents is a brand new initiative that the foundation launched this year is called INCLUDES (Inclusion across the Nation of Communities of Learners that have been Underrepresented for Diversity in Engineering and Science),  and it’s focused on broadening participation in STEM. We want to build our robust STEM portfolio of projects that address broadening participation to over $800 million. What INCLUDES will allow grantees to do…and we’re inviting the provosts and presidents to ensure that their institutions participate…is to get funding that will allow them to scale up…to take these exciting new innovations…that make HBCUs so successful and scale them up beyond one institution or region to be part of a national INCLUDES network of programs and organizations that are collaborating with a common goal of strengthening the STEM workforce through diversity and inclusion. So we’re really excited about the opportunities that INCLUDES will allow. It’s a new initiative…fifteen and a half million dollars this year. We’re inviting institutions from across the country to consider submitting proposals for that initiative.


Dr. Claudia Rankins

Program Director,
National Science Foundation
Claudia Rankins



This summit was made possible by an NSF grant. Why was it important for the NSF to support this event?

With recent research showing that Historically Black Colleges and Universities do an excellent job in preparing students, particularly in the STEM fields…we thought it would be a good time for presidents from these institutions to meet and talk about how collectively they will move forward to make the institutions stronger, to recruit, retain and graduate more students.

We also see a lot of exciting research coming out the HBCUs. We fund a number of centers called the Crest Centers for Excellence in Research and Technology and to see a lot of exciting research coming out of those centers. We also see where faculty are instituting creative and innovative teach pedagogy in their classrooms to teach students in new and exciting ways to keep them engaged and to prepare them ultimately for the workforce. The evaluations…showed that graduates from HBCUs tend to be employed in STEM at a higher rate and go to graduate study in STEM at a higher rate than students nationwide. And they compared it to a national group of student.

What is one of the short-term goals of the summit?

That it doesn’t end with this summit…that the presidents continue to talk to each other and others that are here today and that collaborations are being formed among the institutions.


Hon. LaDoris “Dot” Harris

Office of Economic Impact and Diversity
U.S. Department of Energy
LaDoris Harris

Why is the Department of Energy actively supporting this summit?

The Department of Energy not only supports STEM, we consider ourselves one of the key stem agencies, because we have over 35,000 clients. The President (of the United States) has been very instrumental in making sure that we focus on STEM around the country and this STEM summit is specifically for the black colleges and universities. It all actually started when I was giving a keynote at President Obama’s Presidential Advisory Board, actually chaired by Dr. Harvey who’s from Hampton University. And he challenged me as I challenged him to make sure that we do more to engage HBCUs, to be able to fund HBCUs more and actually pull them into the fold….because we need every student in this country to focus on STEM.

Addressing the STEM issue in this country is a three-legged stool. It’s going to take the educational system, government and other sectors. At this event, not only are we having federal agencies represented and HBCUs represented, we also have the private sector. So we have brought the three legs of that stool together here—convening here in this beautiful city of Montgomery, Alabama.

What do you feel should be the result of this summit?

It is important for us…to continue the dialogue and continue the things that we all have to do to address the issue of STEM. Really the country that is going to be leading in the world will be the one that is leading in technology, and we’re lacking in STEM fields here in the U.S. So, when you look at the issue that we’re addressing, it’s not just convening HBCUs to talk about STEM; it’s really about positioning this country to be have the national security that we need. Because if you roll back national security, it becomes economic security which rolls back into education security. It’s the first leg that I see in order to secure this country as the number one nation in the world. So, in part, what we’re doing her today is actually contributing to the national security of this country.

What is the central message that you want to leave with the HBCU presidents who attended this conference?

I want them to think of (their universities) as a business. When you have a business, you have to have collaborations and partnerships…not only working with other HBCUs, but (also with) local, congressional and senate representatives. Also, one of the things that works well is having HBCUs work a lot with the majority schools. Partnerships between the HBCUs and the majority schools are important. I want to see more collaboration not only between the HBCUs, but also with other minority serving institutions. We support very heavily the tribal colleges, the Hispanic serving institutions, the Asian-American and Pacific Island schools. So if you look at the ecosystem that has HBCU collaborating with other minority serving institutions and collaborating with the majority schools…we in federal government will be happy because…we’re all addressing the needs that will secure this country and keep the United States as the number one powerful country in the world. And that’s my focus…helping to find a way of creating the next generation of workforce. Workforce and economic development are also part of the equation in supporting these schools. The next level of engineers and scientists are out there (and collaborations) create jobs and that’s what we ultimately want.

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