Brookhaven INCREASE Program Levels the Playing Field for Minority-Serving Institutions

Brookhaven INCREASE Program Levels the Playing Field for Minority-Serving Institutions

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The Interdisciplinary Consortium for Research and Educational Access in Science and Engineering (INCREASE) assists minority-serving institutions with gaining access to world-class research facilities. The group also aims to facilitate education and research training, especially for African-, Hispanic-, and Native-Americans and women. Based at Hampton University and formed at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) in 2007, INCREASE has held yearly workshops with support from BNL's Photon Sciences Directorate, the Office of Educational Programs, and a National Science Foundation grant through Southern University Ð New Orleans (SUNO). With features such as hands-on research demonstrations and proposal-writing tutorials, the workshops have taught INCREASE members how to transform themselves and their students into successful users of the National Synchrotron Light Source (NSLS) and the Center for Functional Nanomaterials.

Last year, BNL Deputy Director for Science and Technology Doon Gibbs signed a Memorandum of Understanding on behalf of the Laboratory, along with the presidents of the 11 INCREASE core institutions from the United States, Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, Alabama A&M University, Delaware State University, Hampton University, Morgan State University, North Carolina A&T State University, Northeastern State University, SUNO, Tennessee State University, Tougaloo College, University of Puerto Rico, and the University of the Virgin Islands.

"INCREASE is really about leveling the playing field for research and education," said INCREASE President Eric Sheppard, dean of the School of Engineering and Technology at Hampton University. "We can do it ourselves. It's about building infrastructure and institutions. It's also about building people."

The program has received funding from the National Science Foundation through a SUNO Historically Black College and Universities (HBCU) undergraduate program grant to create workshops that educate faculty from minority groups about the opportunities available at national laboratory facilities. The funding was awarded after INCREASE held three successful NSLS-sponsored workshops. The workshops have been a direct outcome of the Department of Energy's (DOE) faculty and student team program at BNL.

"This is a very good collaboration for HBCUs because it brings together all of the faculty members from those campuses that do not have the big equipment and resources found at national laboratories," explained Joe Omojola, one of the founding members of INCREASE and a mathematics and physics professor at SUNO. "This benefits both faculty and students through advancing the research capabilities of faculty members, who then train the students."

The workshops were designed to increase awareness about BNL facilities and expand the variety and diversity of projects by providing partnerships and opportunities with different universities. These partnerships, in combination with access to first-rate research equipment, result in significantly more competitive research grant applications for the underserved faculty members.

INCREASE is collaborating with other national labs after its fifth annual Synchrotron Science Workshop at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in July 2011. This proof of concept will eventually allow INCREASE to hold annual workshops for minority professors throughout the entire DOE complex, creating access and developing new users for these cutting-edge facilities.

The number and diversity of INCREASE workshops also have growth potential. Creative combinations of user facility workshops and expansion to the entire DOE complex are planned for the future.

"Attracting a talented pool of minority scientists from academia and expanding INCREASE workshops to other facilities beyond NSLS are good indicators that the INCREASE program can be a successful model for meeting DOE's mission for workforce development and diversity," said Noel Blackburn, BNL's Educational Programs Administrator.