Messenger - Vol. 3, No. 4, Page 14
Summer 1994
Academic goals at the forefront

     We're talking about the survival of America," says Terry
Whittaker. "We're talking about the backbone of prosperity." He's
talking about diversity.
     Whittaker, director of FORTUNE 2000, a minority recruitment and
support program in the UD College of Business and Economics, cites
demographic projections showing that, by the year 2000, minorities
will make up fully one third of America's population.
     U.S. business will either draw on minorities for executive
positions, Whittaker contends, or it will decline, because, without
minorities, the talent pool will be fatally shallow.
     And when Whittaker talks, business listens. MBNA America, one of
the country's largest credit card companies, donated $1 million to
FORTUNE 2000, and J.P. Morgan Delaware committed $150,000. Business
executive Jorge A. Braithwaite, a native of Panama and senior vice
president at the Bank of New York (Delaware), even put up $10,000 of
his own money because he liked the "pulse" of the program.
     Such philanthropy is an investment in infrastructure, Whittaker
     "Companies now are looking for a return on their money. Diversity
is now a supply-and-demand issue, especially in engineering and
business. It's an economic issue, to stay competitive in world
markets," he says.
     FORTUNE 2000 was started in the fall of 1992, when Whittaker left
the College of Engineering's RISE (Resources to Insure Successful
Engineering) program, which he had started nine years earlier. The
UD's RISE program is a model nationally for recruiting and retaining
academically talented minority students. FORTUNE 2000 predicts 200
undergraduates by 1998, doubling representation in the College of
Business and Economics from 5.2 to 10 percent.
     In all, the University has five college-based support programs
that nurture African-American, Hispanic, Native American and other
minority students. "They're the edge we have over other schools,"
Zenobia Hikes, associate director of admissions, says. "These are
comprehensive programs, in place, designed for the student's
professional development and growth."
     In addition to FORTUNE 2000 and RISE, there's HORIZONS in the
College of Human Resources; ASPIRE (Academic Support Programs
Inspiring Renaissance Educators) in the College of Education; and
NUCLEUS (Network of Undergraduate Collaborative Learning Experiences
for Underrepresented Scholars) in the Department of Chemistry and
Biochemistry of the College of Arts and Science.
     Judith Y. Gibson, assistant vice president for affirmative action
and multicultural programs, has spent the last 15 years at the cutting
edge of campus diversity. She oversees the John Henry Taylor Scholars
Program, which encourages African-American and Hispanic students to
choose degree programs in mathematics and the sciences.
     Gibson says the University is on track and points to the numbers.
African-American undergraduate representation has risen from about 2.9
percent in 1981 to around 4.7 percent today. Faculty and staff
representation hovers consistently around 12 percent. Fifty percent of
African-American undergraduates graduate in five years or less. The
freshman-to-sophomore return rate has improved dramatically in 10
     "And, there's a steady increase in UD minority undergrads who
remain here for graduate school," Gibson says.
     Jim Shaw, coordinator and recruiter for ASPIRE and assistant to
director Gail Rys, is a 30-year veteran of New Castle County, Del.,
high schools. ASPIRE was founded in 1991. Framed and mounted on his
office wall is a photo gallery of each year's class of young minority
teachers. He sees them every day, counsels them, frets about their mid-
term grades. "They're almost like my children," he confesses.
     Victoria Orner's NUCLEUS is only just off the drawing board.
Having arrived in Delaware about a year ago, Orner herself is part of
a rainbow coalition. "You should see my family photos," she says, "I
guess that's what makes me optimistic about the future." Her parents
are Haitian; her husband, German-American; one sister-in-law is
Filipino; another, part-Madagascan; and her sister is married to an
     Giving a jump start to the new NUCLEUS program, 11 UD students
were selected to spend two days in the summer at a national chemistry
career planning workshop for minority students, held at the University
of California at Davis. Delaware's contingent, according to Orner,
represented nearly 15 percent of the total national enrollment in the
all-expenses-paid workshop, co-sponsored by the National Science
Foundation and the Council for Chemical Research.
     HORIZONS director Norma Gaines says her attending Delaware in the
1970s when the campus climate was less favorable toward minorities can
be an advantage: When concerned parents approach her for the lowdown
on race relations at Delaware, she can point to her class ring to show
she made it through, and that she understands the obstacles minority
students face, even now.
     Gaines is assistant dean of the College of Human Resources. "That
fact makes students and parents see the University is committed to not
pigeon-holing us, not window decoration, but to affording us positions
where we really have a voice. That is new, and parents are proud of
it. And I guess they should be."
     Of the University's 15 assistant deans, three are African-
Americans: Gaines; Michael Vaughan RISE director; and Whittaker.
     Varied as these support programs are, they share a broad, three-
part structure, featuring pre-college, college bridge and college
support initiatives.
     Pre-college activities start with academic enrichment. This means
ensuring 9th to 12th graders take proper courses: too often,
minorities are channeled away from college-prep courses because they
simply aren't expected to pursue professional careers. It also means
spotlighting the link between scholarship and scholarships, persuading
kids that good grades are a ticket to college and beyond.
     Pre-college also means recruitment, but promoting Delaware
involves more than scrambling for elite candidates in a limited pool.
"Without programs like this," argues Shaw, who carries his campaign
for teachers to churches, schools and community groups, "there's a lot
of kids who'd end up not going anywhere."
     College bridge activities bring program participants together in
the summer before their freshman year, acclimate them to the academic
environment and help them forge contacts, support networks and group
identities essential to life at the University, which has a majority
white population.
     "It was nice knowing 40 faces from the summer," recalls Vera
Smith, a 1994 graduate in chemical engineering. Students also earn
required credits. "Being immediately ahead of the game, it boosts your
confidence," says sophomore Michael Herrero, a Westchester Co., N.Y.,
resident, born in the Bronx. "I started in sophomore-level classes in
my freshman year."
     Building on this foundation is a four-year support structure of
mentoring, monitoring and advisement; professional contacts, research
opportunities and internships; scholarship funding, peer group support
and faculty pairing.
     Of all these, perhaps the systematic monitoring and advisement
make the most difference. "That's a strong aspect," says Smith. "In
high school, you only get tutoring if you're failing."
     NUCLEUS participants must confer with Orner at least two or three
times a semester in person and four times a semester over electronic
mail, in addition to weekly meetings with individual tutors. Gaines
addresses each student by letter each semester; her office has an open
door. Shaw and Rys are on the phone the moment there's a blip on the
performance chart.
     Is this systematic embrace smothering or overly rigid? The
students think not. "As a freshman, it did seem kind of strict,"
remembers Smith, "though some freshmen seemed actually to need the
discipline. Also, as you progress, they loosen the strings more."
Vaughan is quick to point out that the system remains fluid. "We
certainly don't want students to become dependent on the program," he
     Interaction contributes to a sense of camaraderie, but, it's
ultimately academic performance that counts. Any other function of the
comprehensive programs is secondary to the learning curve. Says
Vaughan, "We keep our academic goals to the forefront."
                                  -Steven O'Connor, Delaware '95 Ph.D.