May, 2002

Meyerhoff Scholarship Program
Nurtures Minorities in Math and Science

Created in 1988 to address the shortage of African-American males in the math and science fields, the Meyerhoff Scholarship Program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) has proved to be remarkably effective. Fourteen years after its inception, and expanded to include women and all races, the program has kept to a focused core mission--reversing the under-representation of minorities in the fields of math and science. Designed to send gifted minority undergraduates on their way to math and science Ph.D.s, the program currently graduates ninety-five percent of its students in the fields of math and science.

The success of the program depends in part on a carefully considered ecosystem: students attend a special Summer Bridge Program to prepare them for the coming school year. The scholarship program also includes attentive advising, help with internship and fellowship applications, and extensive research experience. Students are encouraged to study in groups and, following the model of learning communities elsewhere, are housed together in the dorms.

Another factor in the success of this program is its competitiveness. Applicants must have a B average in high school both overall and specifically in math and science. They must boast excellent SAT scores with a math score of at least 600 and be nominated by their principals or guidance counselors.

A less tangible factor in the program's success is the culture of support and expectation of excellence fostered on the campus. UMBC president and Meyerhoff co-founder President Freeman A. Hrabowski III, an African-American mathematician and social activist, identified other core elements for the success of the program in a recent Washington Post article:

  • Recruit superior faculty and actively connect them with students.

  • Make sure the program is "at the core" of the university; one problem with minority programs at predominantly white campuses is that the programs do not engage the faculty, and the programs themselves are marginalized.

  • Think about how to teach first-year students to make up for the gap between high school and college. Even with AP training, the leap to college-level work is a big one.

  • Have the students work in groups--when students' social lives and study lives are not worlds apart, the students prove more successful.

  • Pair the students with mentors to make sure they are on the right path, and ask the students to "look out for one another."

  • Discuss progress with students early and often-get them used to analyzing failures and successes. Students have to be able to learn to overcome obstacles and learn from mistakes.

President Hrabowski is a member of AAC&U's current Board of Directors.

For more information about the Meyerhoff Scholarship Program, visit www.umbc.edu/meyerhoff.

To download the National Science Foundation's 2000 report, Women & Minorities in Science and Engineering, visit www.nsf.gov/sbe/srs/nsf00327/toc.htm#front.

For the Washington Post article, visit www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A58117-2002Apr3.html.

For information on AAC&U's project "Women & Scientific Literacy: Building Two-Way Streets" visit www.aacu.org/womenscilit/index.cfm.

For information on AAC&U's recent publication "Gender, Science, and the Undergraduate Curriculum," visit
www.aacu.org/publications/newreleases.cfm.