The National Science Foundation has awarded the grants to Rice University, University of Houston, and Texas Southern University to increase career opportunities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
(TNS) — Rice University, University of Houston, and Texas Southern University have been collectively awarded a $2.7 million grant from the National Science Foundation in order to increase opportunities for underrepresented minorities pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, according to a release from Rice.
The grant, a part of the Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate program, will be distributed over five years and will fund the Strengthening Training and Resources for Inclusion in Data Engineering and Sciences, which aims to improve and educate people about the pathways to academia and successful careers in STEM for underrepresented groups.
Reginald DesRoches, the grant’s principal investigator and dean of Rice’s George R. Brown School of Engineering, stated that a main focus will be getting minority doctoral candidates and postdoctoral fellows into academia, but will also aim to inspire more minorities to pursue undergraduate degrees in data engineering and data science fields.
Yvette Pearson, associate dean for accreditation, assessment and strategic initiatives at the Brown School and a co-investigator for the grant, stated that the project will also create opportunities for researchers to engage with each other across campuses and will aim to equip them with tools and the resources necessary to succeed. It will also allow researchers to investigate the systemic barriers minorities face when pursuing academic opportunities in STEM and zero in on anything that hinders or helps their success in applying for faculty positions.
Meanwhile, the project will also support current and future faculty members with opportunities to be mentored on their careers and personal lives, to receive training and guidance on how to lead inclusive research teams, and on how to expand the reach of their research through entrepreneurship.
DesRoches said the project is both crucial and timely.
“We are at a unique time when the economy is dominated by companies in the computational and data science domain. At the same time, we know these industries remain among the least diverse,” DesRoches said in a statement.
Hanadi Rifai, associate dean of research and facilities at UH’s Cullen College of Engineering, agreed.
“Even in this day and age, the percentage of underrepresented minorities in engineering faculty is nowhere near what it can be,” Rifai said in a written statement.
According to a 2018 report by the Pew Research Center, women as well as black and Hispanic people are often underrepresented within STEM fields.
While blacks make up 11 percent of the workforce and Hispanics make up 16 percent, they represent 9 percent and 7 percent of all STEM workers, respectively. Among employed adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher, blacks represent just 7 percent and Hispanics, 6 percent, of the STEM workforce, the Pew report states.
The gender and wage gaps are also wider in STEM occupations than in jobs outside of the field, with women often occupying lower-paying STEM positions in industries like healthcare rather than more lucrative fields like engineering and computer science.
But Rifai predicts that this will change in years to come, especially if people are aware and prepared for opportunities in STEM.
And Pearson said she hopes that such a project will dissuade the notion that only a certain group of people should ensure that diversity, equity and inclusion exists.
It’s everyone’s responsibility, she said. “I want this to become business as usual.”
©2019 the Houston Chronicle. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.