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 says. "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 years. "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 Italian-American. 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 says. 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.