WASHINGTON—Organizers of a new effort to carve out a larger role for minorities in science and technology, faced with a shortage of people in the various disciplines, believe the solution lies in part with making better use of the minority scientists that do exist.

“The money is secondary at this point,” explained Melvin Thompson, director of the Institute on Science, Space and Technology to be housed at Howard University. “We’ll attract the resources we need by offering the right ideas and bringing together the right players. Once people buy into this concept, we’ll have no trouble expanding our efforts.”

What the new institute is “selling” is the idea that minorities—in particular blacks and Hispanics— must work harder to avoid being left behind as society puts increasing emphasis on technical and scientific knowledge. At the same time, because they make up an increasingly large proportion of the college-age population in the...

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