When Illya Hicks visited Rice University after being accepted into graduate school, he was encouraged by University Professor Richard Tapia to enroll in the Spend a Summer with a Scientist (SAS) program.
SAS was the blueprint for the AGEP (Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate) program at Rice, funded in part by the National Science Foundation (NSF).
More than 20 years later, Hicks and Fred Higgs, vice provost for academic affairs at Rice, are returning the favor with their new NSF AGEP grant, aimed at encouraging postdoctoral students in engineering who are members of underrepresented minorities to pursue careers in academia.
â€śWhile these AGEP postdocs have already proven themselves technically strong, we want to give them the tools to develop themselves professionally, making them marketable for tenure-track positions in academia. We want to help them achieve success at every professoriate level,â€ť said Hicks, professor of computational and applied mathematics (CAAM).
Rice shares the five-year, $2 million AGEP award with Georgia Institute of Technology, Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, and the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. Rice will receive $393,000. Underrepresented minorities include African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Native Americans and Pacific Islanders.
A recent NSF report shows that underrepresented minority science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) associate and full professors occupy eight percent of senior faculty positions at all four-year colleges and universities in the country, and about six percent of these positions at the nationâ€™s most research-intensive institutions.
â€śItâ€™s critical that we work to teach these scholars how to get tenure and advance through the ranks,â€ť said Higgs, the John and Ann Doerr Professor of Mechanical Engineering and director of the Rice Center for Engineering Leadership. â€śThe NSF wants the new AGEP programs to be laser-focused on ensuring the participants actually make it and thrive in academia like Illya did. He is a poster-child for the original Rice AGEP and a mentor to the next generation of minority faculty.â€ť
Higgs noted that three members of underrepresented minority postdoctorates have already agreed to form the inaugural group of AGEP participants at Rice.
The AGEP program calls for an inter-institutional board with leaders from each of the collaborating schools. At Rice, Tapia and Reginald DesRoches, the William and Stephanie Sick Dean of Engineering, serve on it. Tapia is the only non-administrative member on the board.