Brandeis and Hampton Univ. receive $4 million grant to promote minorities in science

September 7, 2018

Hampton University, a private historically black university in Virginia, has received a near $4 million grant over six years from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to perform collaborative research with Brandeis as part of the Partnerships for Research and Education in Materials (PREM) program. Their program is named: The Hampton University-Brandeis University Partnership for Research and Education in Materials.

Since the program is mainly for the benefit of the historically black college or university (HBCU) Hampton, they will receive all the funds to further their program in materials research.

Dr. Demetris Geddis, the assistant dean and department chair of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Hampton University, is the principal investigator of the project. Brandeis professor Seth Fraden (PHYS) is the co-principal investigator.

The NSF, since its conception, receives around $350 million in funding each year, with $60 million set aside for 20 different national Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers (MRSEC). Brandeis has one of these centers. Going into its 10th year of funding, faculty at the Brandeis center mainly focus on biology, because the main strength of the university is the life sciences, according to Fraden in an interview.

“[The] whole is greater than the sum of the parts,” explained Fraden. “No individual research has the expertise to make progress in some nationally significant area on their own. So they make group grants that promote collaboration between professors of varying disciplines.”

Since Brandeis is the smallest national center because there is no engineering school, Fraden emphasized the need for the Brandeis faculty to make a greater effort to even compete with other schools. So the physics department, who started Brandeis as an MRSEC, decided to specialize in the field of biomaterials.

PREM has been a part of the NSF since 2004, helping to diversify science research faculty at various universities and colleges across the U.S., and significantly increasing the number of students pursuing postdoctoral work in materials research. They specifically focus on outreach to underrepresented minority groups. The program is meant to pair a top-tier research university with a HBCU to increase the diversity of faculty in the sciences. According to Fraden, there is only a 1 percent diversity amongst Brandeis faculty and 5 percent in the workforce.

This collaboration is one of the eight different collaborations between minority-driven colleges and universities that were selected for the program this year. Other collaborations include: The Wisconsin-Puerto Rico Partnership for Research and Education in Materials and The California State University, Northridge and Princeton University Center for Complex Materials, which were listed on the NSF’s website.

“The partnership will focus on developing optical materials for applications in integrated photonics and biomedical devices,” according to the NSF website. Integrated photonics is the use of light instead of electricity to process information in science.

The overall goal of the project is to increase the number of minority students in materials research and engineering, increasing all aspects (recruitment, retention and graduation rates). This will be done through the PREM program, as well as a Path-to-Professorship postdoctoral fellowship and outreach program for younger students in the Hampton Roads region in Virginia.

“The Hampton-Brandeis PREM program will provide students from the School of Engineering and Technology and the School of Science [at Hampton] with undergraduate research experiences related to integrated photonics and optofluidics, scholarship opportunities, and summer research experiences at Brandeis University,” Geddis said in an email to The Hoot. Hampton will also be creating a minor in Materials Science and Engineering as a result of the program.

A few students from Brandeis will also have the opportunity to conduct research with other minority groups that we typically do not see at Brandeis, according to Fraden.

“The goal of this program is to have the workforce in STEM represent the population. Everyone is equally intelligent and capable, so if you have equal representation in the workforce in STEM, you will have better outcomes for society. So we work to change the current patterns of employment and professionalism,” said Fraden. “Underrepresented-minority (URM) institutions have a huge fraction of minorities, so if you can improve the research capacity of those institutions, you can do so much.”

Menu Title