Through a brainchild of the National Science Foundation (NSF), an idea for a collaborative effort was initiated involving institutions across the country seeking to increase the number of underrepresented students receiving Ph.D.s in the areas of science, mathematics, engineering, and technology (SMET). With a $2.5 million grant from NSF and appropriated in-kind funds, Mississippi optimistically joined the movement and efforts of NSF to help accomplish this mission.
The Alliance for Graduate Education in Mississippi (AGEM), known nationally as the Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP), comprises the four doctoral granting institutions in Mississippi-- the University of Mississippi , which serves as the administrative lead institution; Jackson State University, the only historically black college within the consortium; Mississippi State University; and the University of Southern Mississippi. This comprehensive program operates in the graduate school at each institution, and each graduate school dean has internalized AGEM as a base for recruitment and diversity. A site coordinator is housed at each of the institutions. This individual handles day-to-day operations of the AGEM programmatic elements, which include outreach and awareness, graduate recruitment, graduate student support programs, faculty development programs, diversity awareness, and cultural change activities. The program also has a statewide coordinator who oversees administrative issues and coordinates efforts among the four institutions.
AGEM's main goals are to enhance underrepresented students' entry into and successful completion of doctoral programs in SMET areas; to increase the number of underrepresented students who will pursue academic careers; and to bring about a systematic change in the attitudes and practices of faculty members, administrators, and students with regard to minority pipeline issues. By developing partnerships with many state and regional historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and smaller colleges in the southeast region, AGEM embraces recruitment through strategic planning. Attending regional recruitment fairs, including ones held during national meetings, AGEM provides information to administrators, faculty members, and prospective students on graduate programs offered in the state. National Ronald E. McNair and GRE databases are purchased so that those students interested in SMET programs can receive graduate school information packets. AGEM also has a Web site to which students interested in the program can submit a request for information and indicate which of the four AGEM institutions they are interested in attending.
The consortium members also recruit students from each other's campuses. For example, Jackson State University is the sole institution in the state that offers a Ph.D. in environmental science. It is easy for us to recruit students to this program if research in this area is their primary interest. The same goes for unique programs such as marine science and polymer science offered at the University of Southern Mississippi. Students sit in the "back door" of these universities; therefore it only makes sense to pipeline them to our own institutions.
Some may ask, "How do four institutions work together without feeling invaded or in competition with one another?" The answer is "Easy!" African Americans make up only about 3% of doctoral degrees in SMET areas, nationwide; therefore it is obvious that collaboration is essential.
Just recently--24 to 26 January 2002--AGEM hosted its Annual Winter Scholar Symposium on the campus of the University of Southern Mississippi and at the Hattiesburg Lake Terrace Convention Center in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Approximately 400 people attended from the 39 invited universities and colleges in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. Students, faculty, and administrators from regional HBCUs and smaller colleges were offered information regarding AGEM's initiatives and graduate programs offered at each of the institutions that comprise AGEM as well as opportunities to network with each other.
To help develop presentation skills, students were encouraged to participate in student poster presentations, in which they presented their current research and answered questions about their projects. Participants at this year's symposium were also given the opportunity to attend sessions that focused on issues such as "GRE Preparation," "Grant Writing," "Finding Fellowships," "Science and Technology in the 21st Century," and "Race, Gender, and the Graduate Student Experience for African-American Students Attending Predominately White Universities."
We also held a recruitment and exhibitor fair including recruiters and exhibitors from the consortium's graduate schools and SMET departments, Stennis Space Center, Dryden Flight and Research Center, and Black Issues in Higher Education. Among this year's presenters were Roosevelt Johnson, AGEP program director, National Science Foundation; Orlando Taylor, dean of the graduate school, Howard University; Evelyn Ellis, director of educational equity, Pennsylvania State University; Andrea Lawrence, chair of computer science, Spelman College; and many more faculty members and administrators giving dynamic presentations and ideas.
AGEM has 3 years of successful summer research experiences for prospective graduate students. At the University of Mississippi, we offer the Summer Research Institute for Undergraduates (SRIU). This program is designed to provide undergraduate students with the experience of working in a research environment where they do hands-on research with a faculty mentor in a laboratory. SRIU is an 8-week program that provides participants with a practical research experience, GRE workshops, writing workshops, and information on and survival tips for graduate school. It also serves as a recruitment tool, because it allows the students time to become acclimated to the university and familiar with the AGEM program. The University of Southern Mississippi offers the same type of summer program, whereas Mississippi State University and Jackson State University focus more on bridging incoming and current graduate students to and through their academic departments, respectively.
When students are recruited to the University of Mississippi, they automatically become a part of the AGEM family. It is crucial that all students feel that they are part of a community that truly supports them and has their best interests in mind. Therefore, we work diligently to retain each student. One of the ways we have created this supportive environment is through our monthly "Monday Mixers." One Monday of each month, AGEM hosts a dinner for all the AGEM scholars and invites administrators to meet the students. Students are encouraged to invite their advisers. This activity is designed to produce a more relaxed and informal atmosphere so the students are able to interact with each other, as well as with their advisers and other administrators, on a more personal level. The other institutions host similar activities that they call "AGEM First Fridays" or "Power Luncheons."
Maintaining an "open-door" policy is one of our golden rules. Students feel free to come to the staff and receive counseling and address any needs or concerns they may have. The climate in which students operate is paramount to their success. With the AGEM program, we try to foster a "family"-type environment. If students feel supported and know that there are people who truly believe in their ability to succeed, we believe that we can successfully get those students into graduate programs and on to the completion of a terminal degree in SMET. Visiting faculty lecture series, frequent workshops on writing the dissertation, building effective relationships with mentors, and travel for students to present research nationally and internationally are also part of AGEM's retention plan.
For more information about the AGEM program, please contact Juanyce D. Taylor, AGEM statewide project coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org or Earnest Stephens, AGEM site coordinator at email@example.com.