Recruiting science stars from minority student ranks
Published: March 15, 2006
Since he was a graduate student at the University Wisconsin, Keivan Stassun has taken an active role in recruiting and encouraging minority students to pursue careers in physics, astronomy and other sciences.
One such effort is the "Scopes for Schools” program, aimed at getting young people interested in science by giving middle and high school science teachers the resources they need to bring the excitement of astronomy into their classrooms. "We give teachers a bit of training in astronomy and provide them with telescopes that they then get to keep and use for hands-on science projects at their schools,” Stassun says. "We've been very deliberate with that program to include everyone, making sure that we get teachers and schools involved that draw from the minority communities in and around Nashville.” Stassun actually started the program while still a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin. "We had such success with it that we decided to keep it going. We're having great fun with it,” he says.
At the higher education level, Stassun has been instrumental in developing an innovative program that links Vanderbilt University's doctoral program in physics with the undergraduate and master's level programs at Fisk University, a historically black university located in Nashville very close to Vanderbilt where Stassun also holds an adjunct appointment.
"We have created a couple of programs that I'm very excited about,” he says. "At the undergraduate level, we've created the FASST program — the Fisk Astronomy and Space Science Training program. At the master's and doctoral level, we've created what we call the Fisk-Vanderbilt Masters to Ph.D. Bridge program.” That program brings in students who for one reason or another, may have gaps in their preparation so that, through the program, they are able to fill in any gaps and get the kind of mentorship and research experience that they will need in order to successfully transition into the doctoral program at Vanderbilt.
"Just to give a sense of how successful that program has been so far,” Stassun says, "...in the United States, the 50 or so universities that grant Ph.D.s in astronomy and astrophysics average one minority Ph.D. every 13 years. We now have in our program 14 individuals who are working on that Masters to Ph.D. bridge, and we've only been running the program for two years.”
Two young astronomy researchers who work with Stassun and have benefited from his commitment to diversity are Fisk University sophomore Matthew Richardson and graduate student Yilen Gomez Maqueo.