PRISM Magazine On-Line  -  January 2000
NSF aids historically black schools

The National Science Foundation recently announced a $42 million expansion of their grant program to historically black colleges and universities. This latest grant adds 14 new institutions to an NSF grant program that seeks to increase participation by minorities in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology. Each school will receive up to $3 million over a five-year period.

Total enrollment in engineering has been on a downward trend for almost 15 years, but minority enrollment has been slowly increasing, according to figures from the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering. Yet African-American enrollment has recently fallen flat. The intent of the NSF grant is to stop that trend and boost the number of African-American engineering students.

Funds will go primarily towards developing internship programs, purchasing new technological equipment, professional development of faculty, and curricular reform and improvements. Internship opportunities are an important factor in encouraging minority students to get more involved in science and engineering. Giving educators the resources to conduct research and the time to take sabbaticals to work at industry jobs will eventually produce a more informed faculty, who can pass on information about the latest technological innovations to their students.

Howard University, one of the 14 schools, plans to use their $2.9 million grant to double the number of students graduating with bachelor of science degrees in the sciences, engineering, and mathematics in the next five years.

"This grant will allow us to expand our efforts in preparing more minority scientists, engineers and mathematicians for graduate level degrees," said Howard University provost Antoine Garibaldi, who is also the grant's principal director. "It will also help our faculty enhance their proficiency with emerging technologies."

—Kelly Gordon

When old acquaintances are forgotten

Ever get to wondering whatever happened to some old college chum you haven't seen in 20 years? Well, many university alumni offices are now setting up Web sites that allow members to track down and stay in touch with fellow alums. What's more, alumni associations are also using the Internet to keep in better contact with graduates and offer them a number of other services, including chat groups, school news, and even online courses.

"Really, for the first time at universities, large groups of people can be connected," says Michael Stoner, head of new media at Lipman Hearne Inc., a Chicago communications company that advises alumni groups on new technologies. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's AlumServ is an elaborate site that includes an executive job-search program, as well as a separate student and alumni database. Alumni can also apply for a Rensselaer credit card. Stanford University has created a Web portal that includes business and general news headlines and stock quotes.

Alumni associations realize that a high proportion of college grads, particularly those with tech backgrounds, have access to the Internet. For instance, of the 90,000 Massachusetts Institute of Technology alumni, 80 percent have online connections in their homes.

The most popular service so far is the searchable database. Bernard Harris Publishers, White Plains, N.Y., a longtime publisher of alumni directories, now creates and maintains alumni databases for associations. It manages 80 academic online communities, including Carnegie Mellon's.

Andrew Shaindlin, executive director of the California Institute of Technology's alumni association, estimates his rather basic site costs about a quarter of the salary of one full-time staffer. There are plans afoot to upgrade the site, "but it would require a quantum increase in budget and attention before it becomes worthy of Caltech's technologically savvy alumni."

Indeed, some schools spend well into six figures to maintain their snazzy sites. There are ways of defraying costs, including advertising, and, of course, fund appeals. But association directors also know that e-mail appeals need to be kept to a minimum, else they'll begin to irritate the recipients. Caltech keeps its alumni association and development activities separate, though it uses the Web site to solicit membership to the dues-paying association. Notes Shaindlin: "I think people look on that as a service. If we were e-mailing them, however, it might be quite different."