A Well-Forged Alliance for Minority Students

January 1, 2004 | CUNY Matters Columns

The pages of CUNY Matters often carry stories of remarkable students, fascinating scholars, and creative thinkers. A frequent focus of attention is the diversity that is one of the essential cornerstones of the CUNY experience. The University nurtures this diversity by supporting programs that extend minority involvement, particularly in disciplines and professions where minorities are under-represented.

One such program is the Alliance for Minority Participation, created in 1992 and renamed the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation in 1998 to honor the retiring Congressman for his indefatigable support for minorities in urban New York.

There are now Alliance learning centers and mentors on 16 CUNY campuses and at the Graduate Center, and the trend in recent years has been one of explosive growth. In 1998, there were just over 4,000 Alliance enrollees; today there are nearly 7,000 each academic year.

A particular Alliance goal is to substantially increase minority baccalaureate graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Among the initiatives aimed at this goal are: curriculum restructuring and articulation across CUNY; the provision of research assistantships and teaching opportunities, as well as research fellowships; and collaborations with accredited extramural laboratories and organizations, such as NASA and the Department of Energy.

Special effort has also been made to incorporate lab and research experience in the core science-technology curricula at the community colleges. Community and senior college students take part together in an annual Alliance-sponsored Urban University Series Conference, during which they share their personal research projects with their peers.

At the center of the Alliance’s efforts are its faculty mentors. More than 400 have been involved over the ten years, and upward of 100 are active now. This guidance, I am certain, played a significant role in helping close to 7,500 minority students earn their degrees during the Alliance’s first decade. In fact, in the 2002-2003 school year, 852 minority students graduated in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, an increase of over 100 percent from a decade ago. In addition, more than 300 students from the Alliance’s Research Scholars have graduated and a significant number have gone on to graduate schools like Cornell, MIT, Syracuse and, of course, CUNY itself. The offer of released time to professors involved in Alliance-based undergraduate research at both senior and community colleges has proved an extraordinarily productive investment.

An important feature of the Alliance has been the effort to restructure courses to accommodate multiple learning styles and the widely disparate educational backgrounds of students. Emphasis here has been on collaborative learning and non-competitive problem solving. Alliance learning centers offer tutoring and also convene workshops for students lacking experience in core areas of science, technology, engineering, and medicine.

Now entering a third phrase of its development, the Alliance program’s leaders hope to continue to encourage and enroll minority students in graduate programs of science, technology, math and engineering. It has just won a supplemental grant from the NSF for a “Bridge to the Doctorate” initiative that will help students pursuing advanced degrees with expenses for books, health insurance, and activities in professional organizations and conferences.

I cannot over-emphasize the importance of helping society as a whole to become more scientifically literate. As we seek to grasp the ever-changing meaning of the phrase “global economy,” the experiences these students bring to the table will contribute invaluably to our nation’s welfare–and the world’s. The City University is committed to ensuring that the pathways to the four targeted disciplines remain open, with the help of programs like the Alliance for Minority Participation.