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Minority Scientists Network: New Voices in Science
“Opening up to different cultures can be scary at first because we tend to gravitate to members of our own ethnicity,” doctoral candidate Chanel Fortier notes in a candid essay posted to the Minority Scientists Network, a new AAAS web site. Studying in diverse student groups, solid time-management skills, and good preparation has kept Fortier--an African-American student at a predominantly white university--on the road toward success as a chemist.
At the heart of the Minority Scientists Network are individual voices, sharing personal experiences. These snapshots offer a glimpse into the private pathways chosen by successful minority scientists, and the strategies that effectively help keep them on course. Student essays, in particular, reveal the obstacles that may confront underrepresented scientists, and their tactics for overcoming barriers.
Ruth Hopkins, an American Indian of South Dakota’s Sisseton Wahpeton Sioux Tribe, was inspired by a high-school science teacher. But, at age 17, her academic pursuits were derailed by poverty, gangs, and pregnancy. “I know what it’s like to live in a slum and spend my last dime on diapers for the baby,” Hopkins explains on MiSciNet, a joint effort of the AAAS Directorate for Education and Human Resources (EHR) and Science’s Next Wave , the career-development site. Today, Hopkins is a senior biology major/chemistry minor at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks. When asked how she manages to juggle school with raising three children, including a son with autism, Hopkins points to her multi-tasking and organizational skills. But, what’s the single most important key to her success? “You have to want it REALLY bad!” she says.
Hopkins, Fortier, and other emerging voices on MiSciNet offer crucial lessons in recruiting and retaining underrepresented minority scientists. Hopkins, for example, says she wound up at the University of North Dakota primarily because “it came looking for me,” and “there were several American Indian staff, faculty, and advisors that could serve as role models for me.” Fortier looked for career stepping stones in the form of clubs and organizations that help African-American students advance in the sciences.
A “Heros and Sheros” feature, for example, offers insights to the success strategies of scientists like Raymond Johnson and Juan E. Gilbert: Johnson is a professor and former mathematics chair at the University of Maryland-College Park, whose academic career started in a two-room, all-black schoolhouse in Alice, Texas. Gilbert, a professor of computer science at Auburn University, recounts a crucial, early exchange with mentor David C. Haddad. After waking Gilbert during class, Haddad promised to hire the young student if he would earn a Ph.D. in computer science. “I was expecting a scolding,” Gilbert recalls, “but this meeting changed my life forever.”
-- Ginger Pinholster
See related article, “Online Efforts to Diversity Ranks of Top Scientists.”