Dr. Marc Nivet’s keynote presentation focused on cultivating educational environments where students “thrive” as an achievement outcome was one of many thought-provoking aspects of the Penn Center for MSI Convening on HBCU Leaders in STEM at The University of Pennsylvania held September 23 -25, 2016 in Philadelphia, PA. Nivet, who is the Chief Diversity Officer for the Association of American Medical Colleges (and Penn GSE alum), provided strategic vision for The Convening by emphasizing approaches for supporting historically marginalized students; particularly those interested in pursuing doctorates in medicine. Many students matriculate into doctoral programs but often struggle to develop and maintain full vibrant learning experiences within academic environments that are not supportive of their presence and research/practice agendas. Some institutional communities welcome students from diverse backgrounds but may not have the infrastructure to fully implement strategies that promote racial and cultural practices that facilitate a sense of academic and personal thriving. However, HBCUs have a long history of meeting students where they are and are national models for supporting historically marginalized students pursuing doctoral degrees.
One of the primary goals for The Convening is to facilitate a bringing together of experts on HBCU campuses for a commingling of ideas to further shape the development of leadership at these institutions; including the ways they are successful in African American doctoral degree production. In addition to Nivet, vanguard leaders like former HBCU presidents Louis Sullivan, of Morehouse College and Norman Francis, of Xavier University, anchored discussions on doctoral degree production with stories steeped in details about their commitment, dedication, and investment in the doctoral degree completion of tens of thousands of African Americans. President Sullivan’s contribution was especially meaningful as his participation was one day prior to the official opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culturewhere his work on HBCUs will be continually celebrated and understood as one of the most important historical leadership efforts in higher education.
With support from The Hemsley Trust, Drs. Marybeth Gasman (University of Pennsylvania) and Thai Nguyen (Seattle University) of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions published a report highlighting notable achievements of HBCUs and their doctoral degree production. For instance, with smaller enrollments (less than 3,000 students) than most institutions listed, Howard University, Xavier University, and Spelman College are among the top five schools for producing applicants to medical school in 2015-2016. Moreover, ranked among elite institutions (i.e., Duke, Harvard, and Stanford Universities), Howard, Xavier, and Spelman are among the top ten schools producing African American medical doctoral degree completers in 2011. Statistics make glaring references to the critical role of HBCUs to doctoral degree production and the qualitative findings provide important guidance for HBCU leaders, faculty, administrators, and students interested in drawing on these institutions as models as a way to enhance their own campus environments. Discussions during the meeting addressed critical details related to the report including the essential role of: building networks, holistic advising strategies, and the acquisition of knowledge; important building-block features of successful achievement at the doctoral level.
Some highlights of these discussions included student and faculty participants sharing details about their strategies for building multi-layered networks of student support that are collaboratively focused on many aspects of the student experience (personal, family, academic, emotional). For instance, Dr. George Brown, Distinguished Professor of Biology, of Prairie View University, touted his service of 75 years in higher education and noted the many families he’s assisted in the process of degree attainment. The generational and legacy impact in STEM can often be traced directly to specific faculty at HBCUs. Holistic advising was discussed by Xavier University’s Associate Professor Stassi DiMaggio who emphasized how the hands-on management of student schedules is an operationalized aspect of advising and that every faculty member knows every student’s schedule to the point of transitions between academic assignments within the schedule. Advisement supports strong faculty-student integration at Xavier University, prompting Xavier undergraduate James Armstrong (Chemistry Major) to make a commitment to return to his alma mater as a faculty member after receiving his doctoral degree (already making this decision not having received his baccalaureate degree yet!). This exemplifies the important influence of academic advising on the pursuit of the doctoral degree in STEM and transition into the professoriate at HBCUs.
The Convening ended with a full presentation and discussion of the report raising several questions from the audience about the future of STEM at HBCUs and their role in higher education. It’s clear from the work at the Penn Center for MSIs that additional work must be done to provide resources for the institutional support and uplift of HBCUs. In addition to collaborative networks, faculty mentoring and advising, the work of research centers that focus on promoting well-being related to the academic and psycho-social aspects of the student experience will be critical to uplift of historically marginalized doctoral students in STEM (and all disciplines).
To read more work by Dr. Pamela Felder click here!