The National Academy of Science, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine issued a report calling for an increase of minority students in science and engineering. Underrepresented minorities comprise just 9% of the college-educated workforce in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). It would take a tripling of those numbers to reflect their portion of minorities in the general population.
The scarcity of minorities in these fields will not come as a surprise to anyone in academic medicine. The specific recommendations of the report, however, are novel. It identifies undergraduate retention as a key area. Minorities pursue science degrees in equal numbers to their peers, but fewer complete their degrees. Some reasons for attrition are financial, but the drop out rates can also result from inadequate support networks.
Freeman Hrabowski, contributor to the report and President of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, describes how his campus made inroads in encouraging minority students. They conducted focus groups to understand how different groups felt about the problem or if they even acknowledged it. They also engaged students with a more collaborative curriculum and opportunities to conduct research with faculty members.
The physical separation of the medical campus makes mentoring of undergraduates more difficult, but it is one way that we can prepare the pipeline for a more diverse faculty.