Minority Training Initiative

I read, with great interest, your articles in The Scientist, Volume 11, No. 4, dated Feb. 17, 1997, concerning underrepresentation of minorities in science. I congratulate you for presenting an excellent array of diverse points of view involving minorities in science and technology. While the reasons for the underrepresentation of women and minorities in science are numerous, few discussions have focused on solutions to reduce the imbalances and oversights affecting these groups. I would like

Apr 14, 1997
Eleanor Nunn

I read, with great interest, your articles in The Scientist, Volume 11, No. 4, dated Feb. 17, 1997, concerning underrepresentation of minorities in science. I congratulate you for presenting an excellent array of diverse points of view involving minorities in science and technology. While the reasons for the underrepresentation of women and minorities in science are numerous, few discussions have focused on solutions to reduce the imbalances and oversights affecting these groups.

I would like to share with you what has happened in North Carolina since a small group dared to address how-not whether-efforts should be made to contribute to increasing the presence of minorities and women in science and technology.

Several years ago, a group of visionary people, including Gov. Jim Hunt, key state legislators, and Charles E. Hamner (president of the North Carolina Biotechnology Center) discussed the collaborative role that all could play toward enhancing bioscience/biotechnology training at the state's public historically minority universities. From these discussions, a special Historically Minority Universities Bioscience/Biotechnology Program Initiative was established by the North Carolina General Assembly in 1993 with a $1 million appropriation.

These and subsequent funds, coordinated by the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, are enabling six traditionally minority public universities to develop sound undergraduate teaching and research programs in the biological and physical sciences with an emphasis on bioscience/biotechnology. These universities include: Elizabeth City State University, Fayetteville State University, North Carolina A&T State University, North Carolina Central University, Winston-Salem State University, and the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.

The initiative has completed its third year of implementing biotechnology and related programs at each of the participating universities. Over the past three years, while overall enrollments have been level, enrollments in bioscience/biotechnology courses at these campuses have almost tripled. New degree programs have been established, bioscience/biotechnology curricula have been developed, laboratories have been outfitted with state-of the-art scientific instruments, and faculty and student development and recruitment are ongoing.

The goal of the initiative is to have about 750 students enrolled in biological science degree programs and 2,500 students taking bioscience/biotechnology classes each year at these universities. This would result in about 500 minority students graduating with competitive bioscience training, creating a pool of about 150 students eligible for graduate school in science or health related areas. Another 350 will be ready to join the bioscience/biotechnology industrial work force.

Clearly, as your Research article [S. Benowitz, The Scientist, Feb. 17, 1997, page 14] discussed, historically minority universities represent vast resources for ensuring that a state develops competent, skilled future employees from its citizenry. We believe that the investment in this novel initiative could serve as a model for planning and developing sound bioscience/biotechnology programs in other states and institutions, while also addressing underrepresentation of minorities in the sciences.

Eleanor Nunn
Project Manager
Historically Minority Universities
Bioscience/Biotechnology Initiative
North Carolina Biotechnology Center
15 T.W. Alexander Dr.
P.O. Box 13547
Research Triangle Park, N.C. 27709-3547
E-mail:eleanor_nunn@ncbiotech.org