May-June 2008 Issue • Volume 36 • Issue 5

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Science Organizations Examine Ways to Enhance Diversity in Science

ASA and other professional societies, with participation and support by NIH and NSF, explore obstacles and opportunities to better fill the science pipeline

Diversity retreat keynote speaker
Freeman Hrabowski and NIH Deputy
Director Raynard Kington

Led by the Consortium of Social Science Associations (COSSA), nine organizations, including the American Sociological Association (ASA), recently held an interdisciplinary retreat of professional associations and scientific societies to discuss the role of these organizations in enhancing ethnic and racial diversity in science. Convening in Washington, DC, in late February, the organizations responsible for conceptualizing and implementing the groundbreaking meeting included: the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s (AAAS) Center for Careers in Science and Technology, the American Educational Research Association (AERA), the ASA, the American Psychological Association (APA), the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), the Institute for the Advancement of Social Work Research (IASWR), and the Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD). The National Institutes of Health (NIH) provided the bulk of the funding with additional resources from the National Science Foundation (NSF). ASA Executive Officer Sally T. Hillsman served as both a retreat participant and breakout session facilitator, with ASA staff members Jean H. Shin and Lee Herring serving as members of the retreat’s planning committee.

Dwindling Numbers

The retreat was, in part, a response to recent reports documenting the ever-dwindling number of underrepresented minorities who are pursuing careers in science and that leakages in the science pipeline for minority students and professionals happens at different stages of education—but especially within higher education. Professional associations and scientific societies represent permanent homes for scientists and students of science, many of whom relocate several times throughout their careers. In addition, associations and societies, as sources of stability for their members, have an opportunity to provide educational and career support that might not otherwise be consistently available. They can work together to develop common approaches to enhancing educational and career opportunities for vulnerable populations, and to help ensure greater participation of underrepresented minorities in science.

The goal of the retreat was to spawn collaboration—among associations, societies, federal agencies, and private foundations—that has been, in many instances, lacking. As federal programs have faced increasing fiscal and legal challenges, the conveners of the retreat believed that such collaboration is increasingly essential to enhance recruitment and retention of underrepresented minorities in science. The associations and societies hoped that the meeting would forge new opportunities for these groups to work together, share best practices, and develop common approaches, where appropriate. In turn, collaboration should enhance key areas of progress, such as the development and utilization of outcome measures to assess program effectiveness.

The retreat’s agenda focused on: (1) Obstacles and Challenges to the Recruitment and Retention of Underrepresented Minorities in Science, and (2) Successful Models and Future Initiatives.

Issues and Themes

Shirley M. Malcom (director of the AAAS education and human resources office) kicked off the retreat by framing the issue. The first panel of experts, including Arthur L. Coleman (Holland and Knight), Erich D. Jarvis (Duke University), and Andrés E. Jiménez (University of California system) focused on understanding the obstacles, challenges, and opportunities in this area including those identified by research, recent court decisions, the careers of individual scientists, and by university and association leaders. NIH Deputy Director Raynard S. Kington spoke about NIH efforts in this area and introduced the retreat’s keynote speaker, Freeman A. Hrabowski, III, President of the University of Maryland-Baltimore County. The second panel of experts, including Wanda E. Ward (NSF), Jeremy M. Berg (National Institute of the General Medical Sciences), Ted Greenwood (Alfred P. Sloan Foundation), and Joan Y. Reede (Harvard Medical School) focused on successful models for overcoming obstacles, drawing on the perspectives of both federal and private funders and program leaders. Mary Ann McCabe (SRCD) shared the results of a recent survey of professional associations and scientific societies on what associations are doing now, what goals they seek, and whether and how outcomes are being measured.

The panels were followed by five breakout groups that focused on three specific themes related to the retreat’s agenda: collaboration, policy, and funding. Recommendations emerged from these breakout sessions on evaluating diversity program outcomes, mentoring underrepresented minorities, retaining underrepresented minorities in science as students, early career professionals, and later career professionals, and generating broad support for a diverse scientific workforce. A formal report on the retreat is forthcoming this summer and will be posted on the COSSA website at Readers interested in being notified when the report is available can send an e-mail message to small_green.gif

Note: Adapted with permission from the COSSA Washington Update, Volume 27, Issues 5 and 6 (original article authored by Angela L. Sharpe, COSSA).


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