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Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) graduate almost 18% of the Black students with undergraduate degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Of the top eight institutions that graduate Black undergraduate students who ultimately go on to earn doctorates, seven are HBCUs — one-third of all Black students who have earned doctorates graduated with bachelor’s degrees from HBCUs.

To study and model the successful practices of HBCUs, the National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded a $9 million grant in 2020 to establish the HBCU STEM Undergraduate Success Research Center (STEM-US).

STEM-US will conduct several initial research projects, including a case study of 25 HBCUs, studies on intersectionality and gender equity, studies on course-based undergraduate research experiences, and studies of the scientific literacy necessary for success in STEM.

Led by Morehouse, Spelman, and Virginia State University, researchers will share data to improve student outcomes across the HBCU network and other institutions. The center will strengthen national STEM capabilities through research training and education of thousands of college STEM majors, hundreds of faculty members, the nation at large, and the legacy of HBCUs in STEM education.

“Investing in the institutional capacity of HBCUs and developing diverse STEM talent is part of NSF’s longstanding commitment to broaden participation of groups traditionally underrepresented in STEM,” said NSF program officer, Claudia Rankins. “The knowledge generated by this center will detail what practices make HBCUs successful in educating Black students in STEM, and the center will place HBCUs at the forefront of STEM education reform.”

Dr. Rankins is a recently retired program officer in the Directorate for Education and Human Resources at the National Science Foundation, where she directed the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Undergraduate Program and the HBCU Excellence in Research program.

Prior, Dr. Rankins served at Hampton University for 22 years in a number of capacities, including as an endowed university professor, chair of the department of physics, assistant dean for research, and dean of the School of Science. Dr. Rankins is an advocate for STEM education and research at HBCUs. Her research interests center around the history of STEM at these institutions. Her research in theoretical particle physics focused on the development of a model to describe distribution amplitudes and form factors of pseudoscalar mesons. Dr. Rankins is the co-founder of the Society of STEM Women of Color, Inc.

Dr. Rankins will receive the HBCU Engineering Deans Legacy Award during the 2021 BEYA STEM digital conference gala. The BEYA STEM community, over 10,000 strong, offers K-12 students, college students, corporate, government, military professionals, business, and industry employers with three (3) days of learning, networking, celebrating excellence, and showcasing STEM career opportunities.

Photo courtesy of NSF. From left to right: Claudia Rankins, NSF Program Officer, HBCU-UP, Directorate for Education & Human Resources; Cheryl Talley, Professor Psychology and Neuroscience, Virginia State University

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