Making Engineering Exciting

Published: May 30, 2003

A University That Knows How to Win

Scott Bass, dean, and Janet Rutledge, associate dean, UMBC Graduate School
Scott Bass, dean, and Janet Rutledge, associate dean, UMBC Graduate School

On a Mission to Support Women and Minority Graduate Students
On December 5, UMBC was honored by the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) for its efforts to build a comprehensive, supportive environment for women and minority graduate students
“There has been a 50 percent rate of attrition for doctoral students at U.S. graduate schools over the past 20 years—and among minority students, this figure is even higher,” said Scott Bass, dean of the UMBC Graduate School, as he accepted the CGS/Peterson’s Award for Innovation in Promoting an Inclusive Graduate Community at the Council’s annual meeting in Washington, DC.
“We must diversify and support our graduate student population for the nation to remain a world leader in science, engineering, and technology,” Bass said. “I’m receiving this award today on behalf of the entire UMBC community. This is at the core of our academic mission.”
UMBC, one of Newsweek’s hottest schools in America, has earned national acclaim for its comprehensive support for minority science and technology undergrads. The university is best known for its Meyerhoff Scholars Program. Founded in 1988, the program regularly sends large numbers of minorities on to advanced studies in science, technology and engineering at such institutions as Harvard, Stanford, and MIT. The scholars are among the best in the nation, many of whom turn down scholarship offers from Ivy League schools in favor of the personal attention they receive at UMBC.
Now Bass and Janet Rutledge, associate dean of UMBC’s Graduate School, are on a mission to expand that comprehensive approach to graduate students. “UMBC has done a tremendous job at the undergraduate level, so we’re primed to do the same at the graduate level,” Bass says.  
Rutledge, the first African American female to receive a Ph.D. from Georgia Tech’s electrical engineering program, knows firsthand the challenges minority Ph.D. students face. “There’s a feeling of invisibility,” says Rutledge, who concentrated on the scarcity of minority science Ph.D.’s as program director in the Division of Graduate Education at the National Science Foundation prior to coming to UMBC. 
Hrabowski, Bass and Rutledge preach the mantra of better mentorship between faculty and graduate students as the key to getting more minorities and women to excel in science, math, engineering and technology graduate programs. “I’m a product of the national minority engineering education movement of the 1970’s,” says Rutledge. “There was a big emphasis on mentoring. If we’re to achieve the diversity we’re looking for with graduate students, we must mentor.”
Rutledge sees the two-year award from as a big step towards drawing national attention to the problem and hopefully spreading the comprehensive model to other U.S. campuses.
Earlier this year, Rutledge was instrumental in landing a $2.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to establish the Maryland Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (MAGEP), a consortium of universities led by UMBC that includes the University of Maryland, College Park and the University of Maryland, Baltimore. MAGEP seeks to expand the principles of UMBC’s Meyerhoff Program throughout other disciplines to build graduate student recruitment, mentoring and professional development statewide.
Bass and Rutledge point out that the UMBC faculty is dedicated to the mission as much as they are. Michael Summers, the only Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator in Maryland and winner of the 2000 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring, recently volunteered to expand the Meyerhoff graduate biomedical program. Summers started with two minority students and has since grown the program to include 31 students across six departments.
“Our faculty sees this opportunity to be unique in the nation, and they have seized it,” Bass says. “At other campuses, often this type of mission is peripheral; you’ll see an office of minority affairs on the side somewhere. But here, as administrators, we’re just responding to faculty who really want to do this. They’re saying ‘Give us the tools and we’ll do it.’ ”


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