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Project to increase women and minorities participation in NSF-funded programs

The University has been awarded a three-year, $1.5 million program by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to increase the participation of women and minorities in doctoral programs funded by the foundation.

James A. Teeri, professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology, directs the Michigan program, which began in mid-October. His mission is to recruit graduate students for NSF's Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) programs around the country.

"In the last 10 years there has been a growing realization that the really big problems in science are not going to be solved within one discipline," Teeri says. "The big complex problems, like those affecting the environment or advances in information technology, will require expertise from many areas."

NSF started the IGERT program in 1997 with a goal of educating U.S. doctoral students with interdisciplinary backgrounds, deep knowledge in their chosen disciplines, and a combination of technical, professional and personal skills that will enable them to become leaders and agents for change in their careers.

"The IGERT program is working well, but the principal investigators (PI) at the programs around the country realized some time ago that something was missingand that something was diversity," Teeri says. "At the same time, these PIs are very busy people, so while they want a more diverse group of students, they haven't been able to devote a full-scale recruiting program to attract them."

With NSF's support, Teeri stepped in to fill the gap. His first job is to find potential students and educate them about IGERT. Then he will identify their interests and match them with IGERT programs.

Teeri has been traveling around the country, connecting with professional society programs that help women and minority undergraduates move on to graduate school and careers in engineering and science.

"I've been impressed by the number of excellent programs out there, but at the same time I've found a tremendous lack of awareness about IGERT. Virtually none of the students had heard about this opportunity and neither had their mentors," Teeri says.

Judging by the interest so far, Teeri is optimistic about his prospects for success. "I predict that in the next few years we're going to see a significant increase in the number of minority and women students getting degrees in engineering, science and mathematics in IGERT programs," Teeri says. "The programs are there, the students are there and the interest is there on both sides. It just needs someone to make the connection."

For more information about the IGERT program, visit http://www.nsf.gov/home/crssprgm/igert/.

For more information about the recruiting program, contact Teeri at jateeri@umich.edu.

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