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HBI Program - Attracting Talented Minority Graduate Students

Present and future trends in population growth and in participation in higher education reveal that minorities in the United States are a dramatically increasing but seriously undereducated segment of society. Yet, according to a Council of Graduate Schools report, the key to the future security of the United States is the cultivation of intellectual talent, especially in STEM disciplines, to develop a knowledge-based workforce.

However, it is not all gloomy concerning the lack of minority representation in graduate education. All around the country there are programs that raise our collective hopes that the above concerns are and can be addressed.

One such program here at Purdue is the Historically Black Institutions (HBI) visitation program, the premier gateway to attracting more diversity in our graduate programs.

Founded in 1988 by then Vice President and Dean of the Graduate School, Dr. Robert L. Ringel and current director of Multicultural Programs at Graduate School, Dr. Dwight Lewis, the HBI Visitation program gives outstanding undergraduate junior and senior minority students an opportunity to visit the campus and get firsthand experience of Purdue graduate programs.

The 3-day visit aims to encourage undergraduate students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and other minority-serving partner institutions to pursue a graduate education at Purdue, showcase Purdue including the facilities and resources available, and ultimately increase the number of minority Ph.D. graduates.

Since inception, the program has evolved to become a gateway to Purdue for many talented minority graduate students. And one such student is Dr. Nwokedi Idika, a participant in 2005

Dr. Idika, who recently made history at Purdue by becoming the first African-American to earn a Ph.D. in computer science, thinks highly about the program. "I was made to feel as if I was a world-class free agent all-star looking for a new team," he said in an article on Indianapolis Star.

Dr. Idika represents the kind of talented minority students Purdue has continued to attract through the HBI program.

The journey to his historical achievement began as an ambitious high school student supported by caring parents. In an article on Indianapolis Star, Dr. Idika credits his parents with providing him the framework to succeed in academics by encouraging him to "always work harder".

Instilled with a strong work ethic and study habits, and drive to be successful, he developed a strong interest in computer science while at high school.

After high school, Dr Idika joined University of Maryland at Baltimore County (UMBC), one of our HBI institutional partners, and home to the renowned Meyerhoff Scholarship Program. Dr. Idika, also the first Meyerhoff alumni to earn a Ph.D. at Purdue, credits the Meyerhoff program with providing a solid foundation for his graduate studies.

The Meyerhoff scholarship program focuses on increasing the number of underrepresented minorities pursuing higher education in STEM disciplines. The program emphasizes a 'spirit of family' among its participants, and forging strong relationships with faculty mentors. Meyerhoff scholars usually study in groups and form strong bonds based on a family spirit built right from the beginning of their undergraduate studies.

A highly successful program, today it serves as a national model for nurturing minority and women scholars in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Currently there are nine Meyerhoff scholars at Purdue.

After completing his bachelor's degree, Dr. Idika was searching for a school that would fit his ambitions, and propel him to a brighter future. And through the HBI program, he found such a school here at Purdue.

In an article on the Exponent, Dr. Idika remarks, "Purdue was expedient with delivering me an offer, well-ranked and really good at making me feel highly appreciated."

Dr. Idika joins 92 other Purdue Ph.D. graduates whose first connections to Purdue came through the HBI program. In addition, another 155 minority students who joined Purdue through the program have graduated with Master's degrees in various disciplines.

These alumni's accomplishments speak to the need to not only recruit underrepresented minority students into graduate programs but also retain and graduate these students. Currently there are over 90 graduate students from 24 HBI partner institutions enrolled in nine academic schools on campus.

According to Dr. Lewis, the director of Multicultural programs at the Graduate School, the HBI programs' influence on recruitment is not limited to the students who attend the 3-day visit. "One consequence of the program is that the participants spread word about Purdue resulting in higher applications and enrollment into our graduate programs."

For the multicultural office, recruiting minority students is only one part of its objectives. "Not only do we focus on attracting highly qualified minority students, we also strive to assist them in achieving their dream of graduating with a Ph.D." notes Dr. Dwight Lewis.

As Dr. Idika and other successful students from HBI partner institutions join the ranks of highly qualified minority scientists and engineers in the country, Purdue is undoubtedly playing its role in addressing the national shortage of minority engineers, scientists, and academia.

"Through the HBI program we will continue to attract talented minority students to join our graduate programs and receive the limitless educational opportunities afforded by Purdue University and its multicultural programs" concludes Dr. Lewis.

The Graduate School remains committed to attracting underrepresented minority graduate students to Purdue through its continued support for the HBI program.

Additional Facts about HBI Visitation Program:

  • Students from HBI institutional partner schools account for 20 percent of all underrepresented minority graduate students at Purdue.
  • The retention rate of graduate students from HBI partner institutions for the last 10 years is 94 percent and 91 percent for the last 5 years. All students in the last four cohorts have remained in school, achieving a 100 percent retention rate.
  • Graduates have come from 32 different undergraduate institutions. The leading institutions include North Carolina A&T University (32 graduates), Florida A&M University (32), Hampton University (30), Prairie View University (29), and Spelman College (21). With regard to PhD recipients, HBI participants from North Carolina A&T University and Florida A&M University (10 each) have received the most PhD degrees.
  • The Chemistry department (18 PhDs) is the leading producer of PhDs followed by Biological Sciences (6), and Industrial Engineering (5).