[lg policy] US: Minority Students Needed in Math and Science to Combat 'Brain Drain,' Professors Say

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Wed Sep 23 22:19:51 UTC 2009

Minority Students Needed in Math and Science to Combat 'Brain Drain,'
Professors Say
By Libby Nelson


Mathematics-education experts on Tuesday urged the federal government
to get more involved in recruiting underrepresented minority students
to science, math, and engineering majors, saying such efforts are key
to increasing the number of Americans working in those fields.

At a briefing session organized by Rep. Ruben Hinojosa, a Texas
Democrat and chairman of the House education committee's
higher-education subcommittee, three mathematics and science
professors advocated institutional programs that had succeeded in
attracting and retaining black, Hispanic, and American-Indian
students. They also recommended that Congress increase spending on
undergraduate scholarships and for the National Science Foundation,
which they said provides data that are "critical" to understanding
minority underrepresentation in math and science.

Mr. Hinojosa, calling mathematics "the foundation for so many
endeavors," said he would press Congress to consider some of the
suggestions, including a proposal to develop mentoring partnerships in
math and science between government, businesses, and universities.

"For the first time in history, we are experiencing the brain drain
that other countries have experienced," said Carlos Castillo-Chavez, a
professor of mathematical biology at Arizona State University.
"Reverse immigration" of Chinese and Indian scientists and
mathematicians who studied and worked in the United States but are now
returning to their home countries will heighten the need for
developing talent among U.S. citizens, he said.

Mr. Castillo-Chavez and Sylvia T. Bozeman, a math professor at Spelman
College, cited statistics to illustrate some of the lingering problems
related to the participation of minority students in math, science,
and engineering. Although the percentage of black, Hispanic, and
American-Indian students earning bachelor's degrees has grown since
1990, the proportion of such students majoring in math and science has
been stagnant since the late 1990s, they said.

Attracting students' interest to fields where they have been
traditionally underrepresented is a challenge, Ms. Bozeman said. But
she said Spelman College, a historically black women's college, had
succeeded in getting students interested in mathematics through a
combination of summer programs for high-school students, recruitment
by faculty and students in the math department, and frequent advising
and mentoring by the math and science faculty.

Mr. Castillo-Chavez cited a math and science honors program at Arizona
State University as another example of what works. That high-school
summer residential program draws mostly Hispanic and American-Indian
students, most of whom pursue science majors after participating.

Getting more money from the federal government to support such efforts
is especially important because institutions like Harvard University
and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology cannot produce enough
math and science graduates to meet the country's needs, Mr.
Castillo-Chavez said. It will fall to institutions with more-modest
resources to close the gaps.

"We have to produce large numbers of extremely well-qualified
scientists and mathematicians," he said. "It's not going to take place
at the elite universities, but at schools with limited resources."

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