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KU Works to Increase Number of Minorities Practicing Science
From the University of Kansas, Oread, October 23, 2006, Volume 31, No. 5
(view original here)

In the subzero temperatures of Antarctica, a robotic metal box on wheels the size of a computer printer makes its way along the surface of a glacier. Once it stops, its belly opens and the robot plants a geophone spike a foot below the surface. That spike is a sensor that records vibration.

As a part of KU's efforts to increase the number of minorities practicing science, Cheniece Arthur is one of three students from the historically African-American university studying computer science, and global warming in the process, at the Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets on KU's west campus.

"It's kind of like creating a video game, but it's not as animated," Arthur said. "You start, for instance, with a square and then you can transform that square into a cube, then you add wheels on it, and you add the systems and different components that a robot would consist of."

Arthur and Elizabeth City State sophomore Bryce Carmichael and junior Uniqueia Wade are helping researchers design a robot for use during expeditions to the polar regions.

They are receiving an opportunity often reserved for graduate students, and they know they are a part of an even smaller group: African-American scientists.

"When I came here for a conference during spring break, they gave us a realistic view," Wade said. "They said only five African-Americans got their master's degree in any type of science from KU (that year)."

African-Americans accounted for 2.8 percent of scientists and engineers with doctoral degrees in 2003. Hispanics made up 2.5 percent, and Asians made up 15.8 percent, according to a National Science Foundation report released in June. The American Geological Institute reports that African-Americans and Hispanics represent only 5 percent of geoscience degrees granted in the United States.

African-Americans, Hispanics and Asians make up 12.8, 14.1 and 4.2 percent of the population, respectively.

"That's something we try to address. Hopefully by bringing them from minority schools we can have more students getting degrees, then going on to get Ph.Ds. Then more students getting their Ph.Ds will inspire even more students," said Agah.

The Department of Geology at KU tries to address the issue through a relationship with the University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez. The program is partially funded by Exxon Mobil.

Alex Martinez skipped his graduation ceremony in Puerto Rico to be the only student from his university studying with CReSIS researchers this summer.

Tsoflias says industry and the government are taking notice of the need to fill a void.

"We need to start not only bringing in undergraduates and encouraging them to do that, we need to start earlier, we need to go to high schools, we need to introduce students much earlier so when they come to college they do have an interest in geology or geophysics or engineering," he said.

Arthur says a more diverse population of scientists would help her not only in class but eventually when she's working in the field.


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