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A Look at the Institute on Teaching and Mentoring - Part 2

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: What has led you down your career path?

Abraham: First, I am the product of parents who valued education. My father was a professor and my mother an accountant. Going beyond a four-year degree was the norm--the expectation. Second, as a product of the fifties and sixties, segregation/integration left an indelible mark on my world view and the need to make changes. Third, I was very lucky to find a mentor who was patient, saw potential, and was willing to help refine that potential. As a result, he gave me opportunities that helped me to learn, to appreciate, to love research and understand the power of numbers in driving/challenging public policy. Fourth, I went to work for an organization (SREB) that allowed me to apply and expand on my training and the desire to help people through my research and writing—especially people of color. Finally, I was lucky to work with people at SREB who believed in me, my ideas, and gave me the freedom to pursue those ideas. The rest is history—20+ years of a highly successful program to produce underrepresented minorities (URMs) Ph.D.s who seek faculty careers.

Q: What are some of the ways in which you think sociologists and/or psychologists could shed light on our nation’s challenges with increasing the number of minorities in STEM fields?

Abraham: What is interesting about this question is that we know many of the answers. High expectations in elementary and secondary schools, parent involvement, taking the right courses at the appropriate time in middle and high school, quality instruction, increase graduation rates from high school, and higher enrollment and graduation rates from college are key challenges for URMs in all fields.
When it comes to STEM fields in particular, a hard look must be taken at how these subjects are being taught beginning at the elementary level. The data on the number of students who enter college committed to a STEM major and then change their minds is staggering. Something is happening here that needs closer scrutiny and examination. We need better ideas and strategies to keep these students engaged with and committed to the sciences.

Q: How old is the Southern Regional Education Board State Doctoral Scholars Program, and can you comment on whether it relies on support from private donors?

Abraham: The SREB-State Doctoral Scholars Program is in its 21st year of operation. To date, the program has served 1,213 scholars; graduated 706; and has 336 currently enrolled URM doctoral scholars. The Doctoral Scholars Program is primarily a state-based in terms of its support. The 16 states that make up the region have the opportunity to participate, 11 are currently participating. There is also an option for individual institutions to participate in the program. Currently, there are institutions in and outside the region that are exercising that option. We also supplement state and institutional support with grants whenever possible.

Q: In your years of directing the SREB, what has been your most surprising find pertaining to the issues that minority students face on their road to obtaining a Ph.D.?

Abraham: I am always amazed at how little students who start down the PH.D. path know about the academy and how it works. While we all go to school and partake in that system, it is interesting how little we really know about how that system works. It is exactly that lack of knowledge that drives the Doctoral Scholars Program. For example, the Doctoral Scholars Program provides mentoring, academic monitoring, encouragement, advocacy, and academic and career counseling. Like our motto, "more than a check and a handshake," our program is about providing scholars with multiple-layers of support.

Q: How would you grade our nation's relative progress today, in comparison to when you founded SREB, when it comes to decreasing the gap in educational achievement between underrepresented minority populations and the majority population in our society?

Abraham: C+. The good news, there is progress being made! But, the progress is deceptive. What I mean is this, it is true that there are higher numbers of minorities graduating high school, entering and graduating from college, entering and finishing graduate and professional schools, and being hired as faculty on college and university campuses. However, the real question is, are these URM groups reaching higher representation points at each of these respective levels? The answer is a qualified "Yes." The pace, however, is "glacial." Progress is being measured in terms of tenths of a percent per year. I am not sure we can maintain such a pace and achieve an inclusive and engaged citizenry regardless of racial/ethnic status - provided, of course, that is a goal for our nation.

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2011 The Innovative Science & Technology Group (ISTGTM)