Strong consensus exists on the need to expand participation of URM doctoral students in STEM fields, to increase their retention, reduce their average time to degree, and provide these students with the preparation necessary to compete for faculty positions. This paper provides a model for implementing effective strategies to support the success of URM STEM graduate students across a system with various types of institutions. An innovative professional development, participation incentive, and community building program for underrepresented minority (URM) Graduate students in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields was instrumental in preparing them to secure academic positions, navigating graduate school successfully, and form a support network that helped them excel at the next level. The program provided sustained support and several activities in a collaborative environment for 84 Ph.D. and 84 Master’s students, in over 43 graduate programs. Data were collected using evaluation questionnaires containing open-ended responses and responses to specific items sent to the students after each activity, and a survey seeking their feedback on the program.
In only 4 years, the program helped 13 students to secure faculty or post-doctoral positions, and improved the opinion of the professoriate career as thirteen students transitioned to the Ph.D. program and are now more interested in applying for faculty positions. The program was successful in developing and sustaining large-scale, distributed, yet interconnected STEM communities among the diverse Alliance system institutions and increased participation (from 58 in 2013 to 98 in 2017), reduced barriers, and promoted the success of URM doctoral students preparing for careers in the professoriate.
We have developed activities that connected students and faculty across institutions, providing multiple paths to the professoriate that align with students’ diverse academic career aspirations. This article illustrates that professional development, incentives, and community building interventions are essential in generating URM STEM education transformation.