The MD-to-be owes her success to her own scholarship, but a small program called Gateway helped inspire and nurture her. Created in 1986 to boost the skills of students attending the City University of New York, the program engages junior high and high school students in hands-on research and science experiments. "In my old school they underestimated us," relates Gabeau. "But Gateway always challenged us. They never believed that we couldn't do the work they were giving us."
Goals to Reach
The number of PhDs awarded to minorities in science and engineering has only slightly increased since 1997, according to the most recent unpublished data by the National Science Foundation. African Americans, American Indians, Alaskan natives, and Hispanics comprised 25% of the population in 2000, the latest year for which data has been collected. Nevertheless, only 8.9% of 17,064 science and engineering doctorates went to people in those groups, up from 7.4% in 1997, according to Joan Burrelli, senior analyst, NSF human resources statistics program.2
The largest funder of such programs, the NIH, can't adequately assess its own performance in boosting minority scholarship, since it lacks complete statistics on the race and ethnicity of NIH scientists. "We need basic research in this area," says Clifton Poodry, director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences' Division of Minority Opportunities in Research. "We want to address these questions so programs will be informed by real data." Poodry cautions against expecting too much from initiatives designed to boost minority advancement in the absence of national social change. "One little program or even a dozen programs won't have a major impact," he says. Interventions should be evaluated to ensure they offer "added value" by increasing the numbers of minority students and scientists. Some simply "cherry pick" by attracting the most motivated students, he observes.
Training for Tots
Elizabeth Rasekoala, founder of Britain's African Caribbean Representation in Science and Technology, also urges scientists to create new role models. When Rasekoala moved from Nigeria to Manchester in 1984, she noticed no British-born black students in her chemical engineering course. Black students start out on par with white children in British schools, she says, but their performances drop as they advance. Rasekoala blames the poor performances on UK schools and the media as well as parents' own experiences with science. Teachers set the stage with low expectations, and the media presents false images, she says. "We have a television program like your ER in the United States," Rasekoala observes. "Here, it's called Casualty and for the 10 years it's been on, there hasn't been one single black doctor."
The media can have a powerfully positive impact, however, Rasekoala observes. The Mission Impossible character played by African American actor Gregory Morris inspired Rasekoala as a youngster. "He could solve any technological glitch on the spot," she says. "In 1996, they replayed Mission Impossible on British television, so I made my children, who were 11 and 13 at the time, watch it. I sat there and cried when I saw that it was just as groundbreaking for them in 1996 as it was for me in the 1970s."
1. National Academy of Sciences' Committee on National Needs for Biomedical and Behavioral Research Personnel, Addressing the Nation's Changing Needs for Biomedical and Behavioral Scientists, National Academy Press: Washington, DC. 2000.
2. M.O. Loustaunau, M. Sanchez-Bane, eds., Life, Death, and In-Between on the U.S.-Mexico Border, Bergin & Garvey: Westport, Conn., 2002.
3. K.I. Maton, F.A. Hrabowski III, C.L. Schmitt, "African American college students excelling in the sciences: College and postcollege outcomes in the Meyerhoff Scholars Program," Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 37:629-54, 2000
Programming Scientific Progress