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Promoting Diversity in the SMET Workforce

April 1997

The drop-in tutoring center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham is not a clubhouse. It has, however, become the social center of the school's Alliance for Minority Participation (AMP) program, an NSF project that provides funds and encouragement to underrepresented minorities in science, mathematics, engineering and technology (SMET) fields.

As part of the funding agreement, AMP participants spend five hours a week helping other students at the Cooperative Learning Center (a.k.a. drop-in tutoring center), explains Louis Dale, Alabama's AMP Director. "The AMP students are there to tutor, but they also sit over there and study and get to know each other. " In doing so, they see how science and learning are both collaborative experiences.

Alabama's AMP students start with an intensive summer session after their senior year of high school. Then they carry a full load of classes, work with faculty on research projects, enter science competitions and participate in summer internships. The students must maintain a B average to keep their funding.

In 1991, the University of Alabama at Birmingham was one of six schools to receive a five-year grant to organize an alliance with other schools including community colleges, historically black colleges and universities and state schools. The alliances then designed comprehensive sets of strategies to involve more minority students in SMET majors.

All six of the original alliances are succeeding, says NSF Program Director William McHenry, and the AMP program has grown to 26 alliances.

A good part of the success lies in the institutionalization of the AMP activities so that the programs will continue to be a prominent part of the campuses after the NSF start-up funds are exhausted.

"AMP activities are not or should not be viewed as marginal activities by participating institutions, " says McHenry. "AMP activities help participating institutions achieve their goals of increasing the diversity of their undergraduate programs. "

Currently AMP programs are getting funds from state legislatures, private foundations, national laboratories and universities, says McHenry. The funding from these collective sources is greater than the support that NSF provides as a catalyst to ongoing educational development.

McHenry, who works in NSF's Education and Human Resources Directorate, says the program is expected to expand to 30 AMPs nationally.


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