Alliances to encourage young black scientists

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

THE need for experts in science and technology demands that the nation's 110 historically black colleges modernize their classroom offerings to attract more black students to these fields, say educators in the nation's black colleges. A recent White House conference that drew some 500 participants concluded that some of the ways America's black colleges can improve their teaching of science and technology are by forging alliances with industry, foundations, government agencies, and major universities.

Black colleges will begin developing some of these alliances next April at the annual convention of the National Association for Educational Opportunities, the nation's largest organization of black institutions of higher learning, says the association president, Samuel L. Meyers.

``We can no longer stand by and wait for the White House, for the private sector, for foundations, for others to put our house in order,'' said Dr. Meyers at a recent three-day conference on such ``science alliances'' for historically black colleges that was sponsored by the White House Initiative.

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``Black colleges are needed to make democracy work in the computer high-technology age,'' said Luther Williams, president of Atlanta University, the graduate arm of a seven-college Atlanta U. complex in the heart of the city.

``In 1984, only 33 blacks received PhDs in this field,'' he said. ``The figures tell us there's obviously a desperate need for black scholars in science and technology. These few doctorates hardly could meet the demand of filling one vacancy at each black college. Think of the mainstream universities that also seek black professors. And private industry also wants qualified black graduates.''

The White House Initiative is a program designed to implement President Reagan's Executive Order 12320 of 1981, that called for all federal departments and agencies to increase their research grants and aid to black colleges.

Under this order, the President told the conference, federal funding to these schools has increased from $545 million in 1981 to $629 million in '85.

Atlanta U. was among three colleges and six corporations to win White House Initiative awards for their alliances at a special White House ceremony. The other two colleges were Prairie View A&M University, for its work with Texas A&M University; and Jackson (Miss.) State University, for its joint research projects with the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif.

``We were granted $1.5 million from the US Department of Energy, and we ran with with the ball,'' said James A. Hafner, president of Jackson State. ``Congress, with the support of the Congressional Black Caucus, approved the grant. Our alliance brings our students and faculty to the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratories in a program to train minorities. All we have to do is measure up.''

Atlanta University won because of its 18 alliances and projects in the natural sciences, mathematics, education, and business and library technology with private-sector corporations, universities, and federal agencies.

Praising black colleges as ``an important and irreplaceable pillar'' in higher education, President Reagan pledged continued support of black colleges. He called on the private sector to work with them. He encouraged major universities, science laboratories, foundations, industry, and federal agencies to form alliaces with them in science and technology.

``When we help black colleges, we help the nation,'' said Ronald Kimberling, assistant secretary for post-secondary education in the US Department of Education, which planned the conference. ``We've tried to make Executive Order 12320 meaningful. The toughest nut to crack, however, has been to work with science and technology funding agencies'' and involve them with the historically black colleges.

``This conference was designed to give visibility to the contributions of black colleges to the technological revolution and to inspire them to do more,'' he said.

``We have concluded that black colleges have done well with alliances beyond their circle, but they need more connections if they are to become an integral participant in the advancement of science and technology in this country,'' said Frederick Humphries, president of Florida A&M University and a member of the White House Initiative conference advisory committee.

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