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By Michael Lucibella
This month, APS announced the launch of the National Mentoring Community program, aimed at underrepresented minority undergraduate physics students. “The goal of the program is to increase the number of underrepresented minority students who earn their bachelor’s degrees in physics,” said Theodore Hodapp, APS Director of Education and Diversity. The program will train and match mentors with students, set up national meetings and travel funds for participants, and ultimately add scholarship funding as well.
Physics as a discipline has been slow among STEM fields to diversify. African Americans and Hispanics make up about 30 percent of the U.S. population, but earn only about 9 percent of the undergraduate physics degrees, and 7 percent of the Ph.D. degrees. “We’re kind of at the bottom of the scale, so clearly there are some disincentives for students in pursuing their degrees,” Hodapp said.
The new program is loosely based on the Math Alliance, where more than 350 mentors work with about 600 students in mathematics. First, APS staff will set up a national network of established scientists and educators, who will serve as mentors and work directly with students to offer academic and career advice. “We’re going to be recruiting mentors across the country to mentor underrepresented students,” Hodapp said. “Eventually what we’ll do is produce mentor training for those who want to mentor better.” A matching process will connect these mentors and students. The goal is to ultimately sign up a few hundred students into the APS program. (Each year about 650 underrepresented minority students graduate in the U.S. with physics degrees.)
To get underway, the program will match about 50 mentors with interested students at different institutions. Once the National Mentoring Community website is set up, likely in February, other interested students and potential mentors will be able to sign up for the program and be matched online.
“It has many places that can expand,” Hodapp said. “Eventually we hope to provide a needs-based scholarship fund for the students [as a replacement for the APS minority scholarships].” He added also that the program staff is already planning a conference for about 75 to 150 participants, to be held October 9 through October 10, 2015, with travel funding available.
For more information, visit the National Mentoring Community website.
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