Academic Pipeline Programs for Underrepresented Students That Work

Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, president of University of Maryland, Baltimore CountyDr. Freeman Hrabowski, president of University of Maryland, Baltimore CountyDespite decades of trying to bolster faculty diversity, the number of women, minorities, and people with disabilities who become professors, especially in science and engineering, remains starkly low. But some academic pipeline programs stand out at bringing more underrepresented students into the academy than their peers. So, what’s working? And what's not?

That was the central question during a virtual panel on Thursday, spurred by Academic Pipeline Programs: Diversifying Pipelines from the Bachelor’s to the Professoriate, a new book from Drs. Curtis Byrd and Rihana Mason at Georgia State University (GSU). The researchers outlined the best practices of 21 successful programs, detailing how their learnings can be used, replicated, and promoted to tackle the persistent diverse talent gap.

“We went out and found the top-tier initiatives to show in a concise and regimented way what these programs can do from pre-K to 12 all the way to college and graduate or professional schools,” said Byrd, special advisor to the Provost at GSU.

On a panel with Byrd and Mason, Dr. Freeman A. Hrabowski, president of University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), shared insights from what has consistently been seen as a national STEM pipeline program model: UMBC’s Meyerhoff Scholars Program. Dr. Jamal Watson, moderated the discussion.

“We all know the challenges. Students of color all see the problem,” Hrabowski said. “You have over 70% of professors who are white, and you’re talking about 10 or 11% of underrepresented minorities who are faculty.”

The numbers in STEM are especially uneven. Fewer than 2% of scientists in all of the national agencies in the country are Black while under 4% are Latinx, noted Hrabowski. The Meyerhoff Scholars Program has been working to increase diversity in STEM since its 1988 founding.

“Although many of us know about and have academic pipeline programs, we’re not often aware of how they can be organized strategically to promote advancement,” said Mason, a research scientist in psychology at GSU on digging into how programs like Meyerhoff work. “The goal of our book is to help institutions identify strengths and redundancies to fill in gaps of support that underrepresented groups need to succeed.”

Over 300 Meyerhoff graduates currently are pursuing graduate and professional degrees in related areas. Today, there are more than 1,400 alumni across the country.

“My students tell me that UMBC stands for, you must be clever,” said Hrabowski, who recently announced that he will retire next year after having been UMBC’s president since 1992. “At Meyerhoff, we have high expectations of our teachers and our students. We have freshmen call themselves doctors because we want them to see themselves going to get their MDs or PhDs, with a heavy emphasis on PhDs.”

Hrabowski cited research that the vast majority of students of color leave the sciences in the first year or two of their undergraduate careers. But pushing first-years at Meyerhoff to start thinking of themselves as doctors from day one is part of a larger cultural shift.

“We need to make minority students feel like they are more than on the periphery. How do we make them feel part of the mainstream, like they belong in that environment?” he said. “We need to put a mirror in front of ourselves in the academy. The problem is as much ours as anyone else’s.”

Mason agreed and shared how the academy can do that mirror work in three ways.

“As I see it, we need to hold a mirror up to our own institutions, to ourselves, and to those in the K-12 education system who can see us as faculty of color, how they, too, can come into the academy,” she said.

Yet Hrabowski added that despite the success of Meyerhoff over decades, he continues to be surprised at the limited federal funding the program receives. While the program does get some support from national agencies, he said “it is no money compared to what it should be.”

“We should have this as a number one priority, and it is not,” said Hrabowski. “When COVID was a priority, we put billions into that, as we should.”

One of the scientists behind the COVID-19 vaccine, Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, is a Meyerhoff alumna, which Hrabowski pointed out. Because to him, reported vaccine hesitancy among some Black communities also relates to a national need to diversify the academic pipeline.

“Thank God you got Corbett, my graduate, who can show you that a Black woman can be a scientist and help change the world,” he said. “But the only way we can build trust is to have representation.”

One of Hrabowski’s recent articles, “Nothing Succeeds Like Success,” named universities that have graduated the most African American and Latinx students. Most of the institutions in the top ten were historically Black colleges and universities while two were predominantly white institutions. He argued on the panel and in the article that these universities are ideal places to strengthen STEM pipeline programs for graduate or professional schools.

“One of the points from your book is that there are many programs doing all kinds of good things, but the bottom line has to be, what difference do they make?” he said.

To catalogue each hallmark pipeline program, Byrd and Mason used in their book what they termed a THRIVE Index, which describes the program type, history, research, inclusion/identity, voice, and expectations.

“We know that cataloguing these initiatives is just one way of bringing awareness and visibility to these pipeline programs on campuses,” added Mason. “But we also want to standardize ways that we can engage in data-driven decision-making about these programs.”

Georgia State University has been building a Diversity Database using the THRIVE Index to measure and increase diversity, equity, and inclusion across the institution. Byrd and Mason plan to build out that platform for more institutions.

Looking ahead and despite the numbers, Hrabowski remains hopeful for growing faculty diversity in STEM and across fields.

“When I grew up, I couldn’t drink out of the water fountain,” said Hrabowski. At age 12 in Alabama, he marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement. He was classmates with the girls killed during the 1963 bombing of the historic Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. “We are silly if we think that things are as bad as they were. Yes, they are bad. But what gives me hope is we always come back. That is the human spirit.”

Rebecca Kelliher can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Read more:

$5M Grant Focuses on Improving Health Equity in Indianapolis

The Indiana University Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health at IUPUI has received a five-year, $5 million grant from Eli Lilly and Co. to expand the Diabetes Impact Project. Known as DIP-IN, the project aims to improve health equity in three Indianapolis neighborhoods where residents are predominantly people of color.

Launched in 2018 with an initial five-year, $7 million grant from Lilly, DIP-IN is a partnership among the Fairbanks School of Public Health and Indianapolis communities in the northeast, near northwest and near west focused on Type 2 diabetes prevention and control. Download (8)

In the three DIP-IN neighborhoods, 83% of the residents are people of color and an estimated 10,000 people live with diabetes, with prevalence rates of 20%. The average rate of diabetes in Indianapolis is 15%, while globally it is 9%.

"In addition to the high prevalence of diabetes and alarming life expectancy gap, COVID-19 has added an unacceptable burden to Black and Brown communities in Indianapolis," said Tiffany Benjamin, senior director of social impact for Lilly and president of the Lilly Foundation. "With the launch of Lilly's Racial Justice Initiative last year, we are even more committed to identifying and eliminating the institutional and societal barriers that keep our neighbors from living long and healthy lives."

Read more:

Historic Booker T. Washington Auditorium Restoration Project Receives $500,000 from National Park Service

Booker T. Washington AuditoriumBooker T. Washington AuditoriumThe University of South Carolina (USC) has received $500,000 from the National Park Service to rehabilitate and preserve the the historic Booker T. Washington Auditorium.

Built in 1956, the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2018. It is the last remains of Booker T. Washington High School, one of the first public high schools for African American Students. In the 1920s and 1930s, its teachers included civil rights leaders J. Andrew Simmons, Septima Clark and Modjeska Simkins.

“The continued support of the National Park Service fortifies our efforts to preserve, document and reconstruct the extraordinary histories of the Booker T. Washington High School and the surrounding African American neighborhoods that were uprooted and displaced in the wake of urban renewal and university expansion,”  said Dr. Bobby Donaldson, a professor of history at the university. 

Read more:

North Star Dimensions: The Douglass/Tubman Approach to Social Justice and Inclusion in Higher Education

The version of the North Star that is the brightest star in the constellation was what Harriet Tubman used to guide herself and many others to freedom during the late 1840s and 1850s. The North Star publication, which was the first newspaper that Frederick Douglass founded in 1847, was used as a vehicle to help create the climate for an acceleration of the abolitionist movement, the Civil War, and the eventual ending of chattel slavery in the United States.

Both Tubman and Douglass were pushing the country to be congruent with the ideals that were put forth on the nation’s founding documents. They both had a desire for a greater number of people to be included in the opportunities that America contained and for justice to be spread to those who had too long been denied it. They faced the challenge of contending with a brutal institution of slavery that had existed for nearly two and a half centuries in ways that were different but connected by goals that could appropriately be framed as social justice and inclusion.Dr. Marcus A. BrightDr. Marcus A. Bright

The “Tubman dimension” that focuses on individual liberation and the “Douglass dimension” that keys in on collective emancipation are both needed. Communities and students may not be dealing with explicit bondage or captivity in the form of slavery, but there are other chains that need to be broken for everyone to have an equitable shot at living out their potential and for there to be collective community upliftment and individual advancement from a socioeconomic perspective.

Colleges and universities can play a meaningful role in helping people to break out of a limited environment and mindset. There are boundaries that they may have put on themselves and/or societal restrictions that may have been imposed on them. The fight for social justice and inclusion is a multidimensional process that requires patience, pressure, and persistence.

The Douglass dimension greatly involves identifying various means to create a climate where policy prescriptions can move forward, and systemic change can take place. Douglass used his pen and voice to dramatize the inhuman conditions of slavery through his autobiographies, speaking engagements, and frequent commentary in publications like the North Star. Problems must first be exposed and highlighted before they are addressed in a significant way.

Addressing these problems often involves some kind of confrontation if any substantive deviation from the status quo is going to occur. This may involve the creation of new policies or making intentional efforts to include underrepresented populations in existing programs and practices. Just like with medical prescriptions, policy prescriptions must be consistently applied for a period of time in order for the unwanted symptoms to subside and meaningful change to occur.

The Douglass dimensions raises and follow up on issues like the inclusion of certain populations of students in the “top of line” or “mainstream” opportunities or are there groups who are being systematically relegated to the “chitlin circuit” of lower tier opportunities. For context, chitlins or pig intestines, were among the undesired parts of the hog that slave masters gave to slaves while the owners kept the portions of what was considered to be “high on the hog” like bacon and ham to themselves.

The “chitlin circuit” is what developed during Jim Crowe as a way for Black entertainers to showcase their talents to segregated Black audiences. One the one hand, the “chitlin circuit” provided for a greater level of autonomy within the Black world with Black-owned businesses owning and controlling what was produced from the circuit, but they were also locked out of larger opportunities for economic and social growth and development for generations.

There are systemic trends of inequity that may be progressing without conscious intent but need to be addressed. Some colleges and universities have inadvertently developed a multi-tiered system for the disbursement and allocation of opportunities and resources based on race, ethnicity, gender, religion, disability, and sexual orientation. These are issues that can be brought to the forefront utilizing the Douglass dimension.

This approach brings a social justice and inclusion lens into an institution’s policymaking process and employs different tactics to get and keep important issues on the agenda. It facilitates activities that help to create a climate for equity and access to flourish.

The “Tubman dimension” involves finding pathways to help students get the support that they need to fulfill their aspirations and promise. This is the core of what many higher education student service efforts are geared towards. Pathways to personal freedom like Tubman created are also needed for students who need specified supports to navigate to their desired educational and career destinations.

There are many students who are trying to find ways to improve their circumstances and need support. They need “North Star” like services that they can look to for intentional guidance and connection to opportunities that can help them along their journey. If educational institutions are the “North Star”, then students can be better able to fulfill their promise. This also includes identifying gatekeeper points that traditionally block student progression and focusing services and supports there.

It is important to note that Tubman did not just show the additional people who were enslaved that she led to freedom the way, but she went with them. She was there every step of the way to monitor their progress and provide the needed information, inspiration, and navigation for them to complete their journeys on the Underground Railroad. In similar fashion, institutions can put people in place to be with students on their journeys and align the appropriate supports to meet students at their needs. 

Tubman was not the creator of the underground railroad, but she executed her role as a conductor at an extremely elite level. The Tubman dimension of social justice and inclusion in higher education centers around the implementation of broader strategies for freedom, development, and empowerment. Implementation at a high level requires grit, determination, consistency, courage, and dedication and is essential to policy being delivered to its intended targets.

The Tubman dimension underscores the importance of following through on proclamations, promises, and policies that may have been passed or agreed upon but have not been fully carried out. A lack of follow up and dedicated efforts to implement initiatives and policies can result in people getting short-changed and slighted over the long run. A system can be put in place, but it cannot be implemented with fidelity without an adequate level of corresponding financial and human resources. The need to continue to organize around and support the people and entities that are charged with delivering policy to the people is critical.

The process of helping students through the Tubman dimension connects to the Douglass dimension in that by helping individual students one can discover trends that can inform and expand efforts that have proven to be effective and impactful. An individual’s need for direct support can be highlighted and put forth as a representative example for a broader population. Broader policy can then institutionalize and sustain good efforts and programming.

Ultimately, both dimensions work in unison because systemic changes are necessary as are pathways that empower students to navigate through doors of opportunity. Tubman and Douglass both put their imagination into action as they endeavored to push towards liberation against significant odds. Tubman believed that she could find her way to freedom and go back to free others while rewards for her capture were ever-present, and the journeys grew more and more dangerous. She continued to risk her freedom to free others. Douglass had the audacious belief that he could utilize his God-given gifts of speaking and writing to play a major role in changing a system of slavery that had been in place for over 240 years.

The future of social justice and inclusion in higher education does not have to be locked into old traditions or the ways that it has been in the past. There is room for those who have the foresight to envision new systems and pathways for students and communities and believe that it can be done. The dimensions of the North Star that Douglass and Tubman used to move the nation forward in the areas of social justice and inclusion are still available to institutions of higher education as they continue to serve as arguably the nation’s most formidable vehicle of social mobility.

Dr. Marcus Bright is a scholar and administrator. 

Read more:



National Weather

Click on map for forecast