A federal program created to boost the number of minorities working in the science, technology, engineering and math disciplines has also enhanced the academic culture at Fort Valley State
University, said Dr. Dwayne Daniels, FVSU’s chair of chemistry and director of the Peach State Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (PS-LSAMP), a grant program funded by the National Science Foundation.
The university is using the grant to move students to the highest levels in their fields, providing funding for students to attend conferences, network with industry professionals, gain access to peer mentors, and study in a dedicated space. Students in the program also receive a stipend of up to $1,000 a semester. The funding is enabling students to excel in very complex majors, and allowing FVSU to compete with larger schools. Through the program, about $14 million has been shared among Georgia institutions, including FVSU, Kennesaw State University, Georgia Tech, Georgia Perimeter College and Savannah State University, to ensure academic mentoring, training and support for future scientists. Since 2006, between 20 and 30 FVSU students per semester have been involved in the program.
“This has helped to even the playing field,” said Daniels. “I have money to take students to the big conferences, and at those conferences, our students get the chance to network and meet people who may be interested in partnering with minority students and schools so our students can do research and get their foot in the door.”
When the program began, it focused on providing the institutions with the infrastructure needed to provide students with an academic advantage in science, Daniels said. The second phase, he said, focused more on recruitment and retention of qualified students at the undergraduate level. Currently, PS-LSAMP institutions are focused on transitioning the students in those initial cohorts into graduate school so they can continue preparing for their ultimate STEM-based careers.
“We’re now paying $32,000 for the first two years of graduate school,” he said. “If they continue on for their Ph.D., the school picks up the rest.”
“We’ve been working a long time and working really hard at this,” he said. “It’s good that the National Science Foundation recognized that more diversity and minorities were needed in STEM because for so long we were left out.”
Daniels said one of the most fulfilling parts of being in charge of the program has been witnessing the progression of his FVSU students first-hand.
“I’ve been at Fort Valley State for 20 years, and I’m starting to see some of the students who have been in the program and gone off to other places come back with their Ph.Ds.,” Daniels said. “Now I want to see some of these students come back and join the faculty and take ownership of what we are doing.”