Research Award Gives Boost to Tech Grad Turned Faculty Member

Samuel Graham is the type of faculty recruit more engineering schools want among their ranks: an African American scholar, entering the workforce with a Ph.D. in an engineering field, who recognizes the scarcity of minority role models and mentors in American universities and has the skills and know-how to do something about it.

"It is critical that we have more minority representation in academia in order to better prepare minority students in the fields of engineering and science," said Graham, who joined Georgia Tech's School of Mechanical Engineering as an assistant professor this fall, following four years at Sandia National Laboratories.

Graham (ME '99) is one of three Georgia Tech graduates who each recently received a $20,000 grant to help newly minted Ph.D. graduates jumpstart their academic careers. The grants were awarded by FACES, a Georgia Tech program supported by the National Science Foundation that is designed to groom minority students for careers in academia. The grants are earmarked as seed money to help minority scholars build their research programs during the first academic appointment of their careers in a tenure-track faculty position.

Graham is well aware that he's bucking a national trend. According to a recent report from the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE), only two percent of tenured and tenure-track engineering faculty are African American. The figure for Hispanic faculty is only slightly better; they account for 3.1 percent.

The numbers aren't surprising when you consider the numbers in graduate education. Although African Americans are well represented in the professional fields of law and medicine, they along with Hispanics/Latinos and American Indians are not well represented in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines when it comes to graduate degrees, according to a recent Black Issues in Higher Education survey. African Americans were awarded 7.7 percent of all master's degrees and 5.1 percent of all doctoral degrees during the 2001-2002 academic year.

"As a result, faculty of color are underrepresented in the STEM disciplines," said Hilary Hurd Anyaso, editor of Black Issues.

Increasing those numbers-particularly the students who will then enter the professoriate-is one of the objectives of the grant that Graham received.

The other two Tech students who received the career grant this year are: William Robinson, who completed his Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering in May and recently joined the faculty at the Department of Electrical Engineering at Vanderbilt University; and Chekesha Liddell, who completed her Ph.D. in materials science and engineering this summer. She is considering faculty positions at Cornell University and at Georgia Tech. Nine students have received the grant since 1999, the first year it was offered.

"When someone is starting out as a new faculty member, it is difficult to get a research program started," said Reginald DesRoches, an assistant professor in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, who coordinates the faculty career initiative grants for FACES. "This really helps to leverage one's resources."

The ultimate goal of the FACES program, which stands for Facilitating Academic Careers in Engineering and Science, is to increase the number of minorities pursuing advanced degrees in engineering and science, particularly the number of underrepresented students pursuing careers in academia. One facet of the program is the FACES Career Initiation Grant.

FACES is one of several university-based initiatives funded by the National Science Foundation under its Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP) program. AGEP works to increase the number of AfricanAmerican, Hispanic and Native American students receiving doctoral degrees in science and engineering.

In addition, the FACES program offers a series of future faculty development workshops to prepare students for the challenges of academia. The program is a collaborative effort of the College of Engineering and the College of Science, OMED (Georgia Tech's Office of Minority Educational Development), Morehouse College and Spelman College.