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A Look at the Institute on Teaching and Mentoring - Part 1

Ansley Abraham

Dr. Ansley Abraham is founding director of the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) State Doctoral Scholars Program in Atlanta, GA. Under Dr. Abraham's direction, the board has developed one of the nation's best-documented and nationally honored programs for producing minority Ph.D.s who seek faculty careers. The Doctoral Scholars Program is successfully producing minority graduates - more than 700 - who are employed on college and university campuses. Currently, more than 360 scholars are progressing toward the Ph.D. The Doctoral Scholars Program annually sponsors the Compact for Faculty Diversity Institute on Teaching and Mentoring. The Institute is a nationwide effort of state, federal, and private agencies and organizations committed to faculty diversity. More than 1,100 minority Ph.D. scholars and their mentors come together to learn the skills and knowledge necessary for the successful completion of the doctoral degree and transition into an academic career. The Institute is the largest gathering of minority Ph.D. students in the nation.
Dr. Abraham has directed studies at SREB that covered several topics, including perception of the campus climate by minority and majority group students on
historically black and predominantly white campuses. Dr. Abraham also completed two widely acclaimed studies on statewide assessment and placement standards and the need for developmental education for entering college students in the SREB region. As a result of his research, Dr. Abraham has published numerous articles and monographs.
Dr. Abraham earned his B.S. in sociology and psychology, and his M.S. and Ph.D. in sociology (with an emphasis on sociology of education and race/ethnic relations) from Florida State University. He has worked as a program specialist in the Florida State Department of Education and management analyst in the Florida Governor's Office.

Q: Why the Institute?

Abraham: The Institute is the result of a two-year study to identify the barriers of underrepresented minorities (URMs) seeking doctoral degrees. The number one barrier for anyone seeking a Ph.D. is money. For URMs, feelings of alienation and isolation, are identified as major barriers to earning the Ph.D. Also on this list are lack of good mentoring, understanding the graduate school process and how the academy works to become successful (tenured), lack of teaching experience, grant writing, conducting research and presenting ones research, getting published, selecting doctoral committee members, etc. The question became how to address all of these needs in a single program with limited resources.
The answer was the Institute on Teaching and Mentoring. This platform, four-days of workshops, meeting, networking, and recruiting opportunities, brings together scholars, mentors, faculty, and guests to meet with experts who address the issues identified above. This platform allows scholars to interact with one another in a "safe" environment that encourages honest and earnest discussions. This incredibly successful event attracts URM Ph.D. scholars from other institution, state, federal, and philanthropic programs and organizations with similar goals. As a result, the Institute has become the largest gathering of minority Ph.D. scholars in the nation!

Q: For someone who goes onto the Institute's web site, there is some confusion about what the Compact for Faculty Diversity is relative to the Institute. Is it a sub program?

Abraham: The best approach is to think of the Compact for Faculty Diversity and Institute on Teaching and Mentoring as one in the same. The Compact for Faculty Diversity actually started the Institute. In 1994, the New England Board of Higher Education (NEBHE), the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB), and the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) came together with strong foundation support to form the Compact for Faculty Diversity. The Compact's goal was to address the dearth of minority faculty on college campuses in all three regions. In the early years, the Compact was housed at WICHE and had its own director and staff. The three boards alternated "hosting" the annual Institute. However, over the subsequent years and changes in funding and priorities, the Compact as an identifiable entity dissolved and SREB assumed hosting responsibilities for the Institute in 1999. Because the Compact had developed a "brand" over the years, it made sense to maintain the association between the Compact and the Institute. As a result, SREB provides administrative and hosting responsibilities for the annual "Compact for Faculty Diversity Institute on Teaching and Mentoring." WICHE continues to maintain a presence in the annual Institute, but NEBHE no longer has any association.

Q: How do you gauge success of the institute's goals?

Abraham: We gauge the success of the Institute in several ways. The first indicator of success is that each year our attendance has grown! We are now the largest annual gathering of minority Ph.D. scholars in the nation (at least 1,000 attendees per year). Next, we collect evaluations each year of every session that is conducted at the Institute as well as an overall Institute assessment. On a 5-Point Likert scale, the overall Institute has never rated below 4.1 and over the last 10 years the Institute has rated 4.6 or higher. Also, I receive written and oral comments that affirm the impact of the Institute in terms of providing inspiration to scholars to continue with their studies and providing them with important information and knowledge that has made them more competitive in their studies and job searches.
Finally, a strong indicator of success is the number of Institute participants who take teaching positions. While we do not track each and every Institute participant, the SREB Doctoral Scholars Program does track its program graduates (all of whom had Institute experiences) and the data show 80% of its graduates are employed in education. It does not get much better!

Q: What do you see as the future of the Institute, i.e., where do you hope it to be in 10 years?

Abraham: The Future of the Institute: First, I hope we are able to continue to deliver needed information and knowledge services to URM Ph.D. scholars. Also, I hope we can increase the number of scholars we serve. It would be great to double the number of scholars we serve to 2,500 to 3,000. The Institute could be greatly enhanced by the infusion of federal or philanthropic support for a program with a proven track record of "SUCCESS." Additional support would allow us to take advantage of newer technologies and presenters/speakers who are currently beyond our means.

Q: Currently, participants seem to primarily come from the eastern region of the US (North and South). Can a student, postdoc, or faculty from somewhere else in the US get involved as a participant or otherwise?

Abraham: We actually have scholars from across the nation. In 2013, we had scholars from 47 states. It is true that more than half of the Institute attendees are from east of the Mississippi. However, that is a function of the states and institutions that have historically participated in and know about the Institute. Further, according to recent Institute statistics, there were more than 250 institutions represented at the 2013 Institute representing 99 specific disciplines. We welcome more Midwest and western participants.

Q: Has the institute carried out any studies on the impact of its workshops on increasing the representation of African Americans and Latinos in STEM fields?

Abraham: No, we haven't carried out any studies on the impact of Institute workshops on increasing the representation of African Americas and Latinos in STEM fields. Remember, the goal of the Institute is to increase the number of URMs who earn doctoral degrees and who pursue employment on college and university campuses. It is true that that the greatest need for URM faculty is in the STEM disciplines. The Institute acknowledges this need by partnering with programs that have STEM foci to send their scholars to the Institute. As a result, more than 60 percent of Institute participants are in the STEM disciplines. This fact is acknowledged by Institute planners by designating/including several sessions that are specifically designed for scholars in STEM disciplines.
These are the facts. Regardless of discipline, minorities are underrepresented in every field of study with few exceptions. Beyond that, racial/ethnic minorities are underrepresented at the head of the classroom. Put more succinctly, it is still possible to get a college education in America and never have a faculty of color.
The Institute is further trying to address this situation through its online Scholar Directory (Directory Link). Each Institute attendee is included in this online Directory. The Directory accomplishes two goals. First, it provides a way for URM scholars to identify and contact one another (build community). Second, the Directory serves as a wonderful recruiting tool for institutions wishing to identify potential faculty of color. Where else can you go, or where else can find 1,500-2,000 URM Ph.D. scholars who have an expressed interest in becoming faculty college and university members? Priceless!

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2011 The Innovative Science & Technology Group (ISTGTM)