Inclusive excellence in higher education and STEM disciplines

By Kevin McDonald

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A. Sue Weisler

Kevin McDonald

The Economist magazine called the educational system in the United States a lottery, a chance encounter of schools providing well-rounded education or missed opportunities for educational success. The writer, in a review of the 2010 documentary film about the U. S. public school system, Waiting for ‘Superman,’ states that the message of educational reform and its correlation to economic improvement is timely in that “the ‘jobless recovery’ is finally bringing home to Americans the fact that too many of those who go through its schools are incapable of earning a decent living in an increasingly competitive global economy.”

By 2020, according to the film, an estimated 123 million high-skill jobs will be open in the U.S., yet fewer than 50 million Americans will be qualified to fill them. The jobs will be in the growing fields of science and technology and the need to prepare young people to seek out these fields has become as important as the need for overall literacy.

RIT is continually exploring how to enhance the pipeline of scholars in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the STEM programs. RIT’s McNair Scholars, Future Faculty and the recent Rochester City Scholars programs, among other major initiatives in departments and colleges, have established a foundation for the university to see to it that students who look to STEM careers will be adequately prepared.

To further the growth of these initiatives and the influence they can have on student success we have invited Freeman Hrabowski, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County to keynote our annual Campus Week of Dialogue. The week has historically brought together faculty, staff, students and guests to discuss current issues and ideas that are on the minds of members of the RIT community. This session focuses on the best ways to prepare the students among us for careers that both satisfy them and contribute positively to keeping the U.S strong within the global marketplace.

Since 1988 when Dr. Hrabowski established the Meyerhoff Scholars program, University of Maryland, Baltimore County has been recognized for being the nation’s leading source of African-American Ph.D.s, according to Time Magazine in 2009. The program strives to increase diversity among scholars in STEM fields. It will be these scholars and researchers, and others like them, who will be the drivers for innovation and economic growth across the country.

Science, engineering and technology are the key areas projected for job growth. The need for a skilled labor force for these jobs is essential. Minority groups in the U.S. are the fastest growing populations, yet they are under-represented in the STEM fields.

Dr. Hrabowski will discuss some of the best practices in attracting under-represented students to STEM programs, putting support systems in place that benefit all students pursuing the fields, and improving the quality of education, especially encouraging high-achieving students to pursue doctoral degrees.

RIT is well positioned to be successful in this type of venture. The university provides some of the strongest STEM degree programs and has initiatives in place to further grow and improve programming.

Universities like RIT and University of Maryland, Baltimore County are the link between supporting K-12 educational programs and launching careers. Colleges have partnered with school districts within their communities to help prepare middle and high school age students for the rigors of college coursework. They also are focused on providing college-age students with an academic foundation and support system that prepares them for the challenges they will face competing for jobs, innovating and developing next-generation technologies and communicating with diverse individuals who they will encounter throughout their lives.

Dr. Freeman Hrabowski’s keynote session takes place at 11 a.m. Nov. 5 in Ingle Auditorium in the Student Alumni Union. His topic is “Toward Inclusive Excellence in a Global marketplace: Transformation Imperatives for Higher Education Campuses and STEM Disciplines.” The event is sponsored by the President’s Commission on Pluralism and Inclusion and the Office for Diversity and Inclusion.

Kevin McDonald is RIT’s chief diversity officer. “Viewpoints” presents insight and opinions on issues of relevance to RIT or higher education generally. To suggest a topic for a future essay, contact news&