Georgia Tech Program Celebrates Diversity of Engineering Students, Faculty

As Georgia Tech celebrates the 50th anniversary of the matriculation of African-American students, the Institute is proud of the achievements of the FACES program in bringing diversity to science and engineering education.

Since 1998, more than 300 minority students earned their doctorate in science, technology, engineering and math, thanks in part to the FACES program.

Georgia Tech ranked no. 1 in the U.S. last year for awarding the most engineering doctoral degrees to African-American students and all minority students, according to Diverse Issues in Higher Education.

Georgia Tech oversees the FACES program, which stands for Facilitating Academic Careers in Engineering and Science, in partnership with Emory University, Morehouse College and Spelman College. The National Science Foundation funds the program.

“Over the last decade, the FACES program has contributed significantly to the formation of an environment at Georgia Tech in which the completion of a STEM doctorate and consideration of an academic career are valued by talented minority students and supported by the campus," said Gary May, Georgia Tech’s Steve W. Chaddick School Chair of the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering. "We are very proud of what has been created here and look forward to the contributions of our students as they pursue their careers."

A shining example of the FACES program’s success is Manu Platt, assistant professor of biomedical engineering in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University. 

Platt not only received a FACES grant that allowed him to pursue professional development while a postdoctoral fellow at M.I.T., but also received the FACES Career Initiation Grant when he joined the Georgia Tech faculty in 2009 to kick-start his research.

Platt, who this fall received a $1.5 million NIH Director's New Innovator Award to support his research on reducing stroke in children with sickle cell disease, said the prestige of being a FACES recipient has enriched his career.

“Georgia Tech is a special place to be such a top-quality engineering school and to have a diverse faculty,” Platt said. I probably wouldn’t be as happy as a professor as I am today without the FACES program. Truly, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to be mentored by the African-American professors who helped me build a community and have showed me how to avoid the brick walls that you inevitably run into."

Today, Platt sits on the FACES steering committee that oversees the program and helps mentor African-American undergraduate and graduate students from Georgia Tech, Emory, Morehouse and Spelman, who will become the next generation of STEM professors.

“I enjoy just talking to them and selling them on why being a professor is so great,” Platt said. “You get to see students develop, learn and grow, and eventually move forward with their career.”

The FACES program includes three components:

  • The Summer Undergraduate Research Engineering/Science (SURE) program seeks to motivate African-Americans to enter graduate school. Students of at least junior level are recruited on a nationwide basis and paired with both a faculty and a graduate mentor to undertake research projects. SURE students are housed on campus and are provided with a $5,000 stipend, $600 travel allowance and a meal plan.
  • For graduate students who are committed to pursuing doctorates, the FACES Fellowship provides an add-on stipend of either $3,000 or $5,000 per year, depending on the status of the student's Ph.D. candidacy.  In addition to receiving monetary support, the FACES Fellows participate in workshops designed to help them excel in graduate school and prepare them for careers in research and academia.
  • The FACES program also supports future faculty development.  Each year, one promising scientist who accepts a postdoctoral position in engineering or science at any U.S. college or university is awarded a $35,000 grant, money that he or she can take with them, as Platt did. FACES also awards two $30,000 Career Initiation Grants to doctoral students who accept a tenure track faculty position in an engineering or science-related field at a U.S. college or university.

All of the pieces of FACES contribute to the program’s success, May said.

“At Georgia Tech, we’ve seen that a key factor for motivating students to pursue advanced degrees and research careers in science and engineering is fruitful research experiences,” he said. “Quality interactions with engineering faculty can have a significant impact on a student’s decision to pursue graduate education.”