SENCER E-Newsletter, January/February 2004, Volume 2, Issue 6
Building a Community of Minority Students in STEM; David Ferguson's NYAS Lacey Presentation
David L. Ferguson, Distinguished Service Professor and Director of the Center for Inclusive Education at Stony Brook University, delivered the Archie Lacey Presentation to the New York Academy of Science on February 6, 2004. He summarized two decades of efforts at Stony Brook University to address issues of access and success for underrepresented minority students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Ferguson realized that traditional lecture-style courses were not the answer while still a graduate student at the University of California at Berkeley. "I saw, firsthand, the amazing role of collaborative problem solving activities, fueled by very challenging calculus problems, in bringing underrepresented minority students from academic disasters to the front ranks of Berkeley's calculus courses."
At its most fundamental level, Ferguson's address was about community - meaning of community, building community, evolution of community, charting the direction of community, evolution of multiple communities, and relations among communities for the purpose of synergy and interrogation. He documented how Stony Brook has steadily worked to overcome fragmentation in the pre-existing efforts to help minority students. Shortly after arriving in 1981, Ferguson established campus chapters of professional societies for African Americans and Hispanics. When Stony Brook students attended their national meetings, it was a "spiritual" experience - never before had these students seen so many other minorities engaged in STEM programs and careers. Next, he engaged students in problem-solving workshops in both mathematics and science.
By the 1990's Ferguson incorporated a series of research and research mentoring initiatives into minority programs. He contends, "Mentoring is the highest form of teaching. Not all teaching is mentoring, but all mentoring, if it is truly mentoring, is teaching!" The large, unsolved problems and camaraderie found in research groups were effective at nurturing success. In one program, undergraduates co-authored over 100 abstracts and publications. Another supported 58 students who have either received their undergraduate degree or are still in school. Most graduates are applying or enrolled in doctoral programs at prestigious universities.
Ferguson highlights four recommendations from the 1995 Boyer Commission report that he feels are particularly relevant to the undergraduate education of students from traditionally underrepresented groups: 1) construct an inquiry-based freshman year; 2) make research-based learning the standard; 3) cultivate a sense of community; and 4) build on the freshman foundation. He notes that the freshman year is the crucial year because it marks an important social and academic transition in students' lives.
The current vision of services offered at Stony Brook to underrepresented minority students is captured their Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) Program.