NCBI Bookshelf. A service of the National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.

National Research Council (US) Chemical Sciences Roundtable. Minorities in the Chemical Workforce: Diversity Models that Work: A Workshop Report to the Chemical Sciences Roundtable. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2003.

Cover of Minorities in the Chemical Workforce

Minorities in the Chemical Workforce: Diversity Models that Work: A Workshop Report to the Chemical Sciences Roundtable.

Show details

3An HBCU Perspective

Cornelia D. Gillyard and Sylvia T. Bozeman

Spelman College

During the past 20 years, Spelman College, a historically black, liberal arts college for women, has become one of the nation's leading institutions in preparing African American women who are successful in completing graduate and professional degrees in science, engineering, mathematics (SEM), medicine, and related fields. Approximately one-third of the undergraduates at Spelman major in SEM fields. Spelman's success is due to the decided growth of the institution both longitudinally and latitudinally over the past 20 years. During the early 1970s, the college aggressively initiated efforts to improve the status of its science programs by garnering support for programs that focused on student and faculty research, curricular reform, academic enhancement, and student retention. This presentation highlights some of the activities and programs that led to that growth and success throughout the sciences and specifically in chemistry. The growth of the chemistry department since its establishment in 1977 and its productivity relative to students and faculty are discussed, and some success stories are included.


Spelman College, a historically black liberal arts college for women, was founded in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1881. One of the goals of the college is to provide an educational experience characterized by excellence for women who seek to be responsible citizens of the world. Spelman College is a member of the Atlanta University Center (AUC), a consortium of six schools: Clark Atlanta University, the Interdenominational Theological Center, Morehouse College, Morehouse School of Medicine, Morris Brown College, and Spelman College. Membership in the AUC allows Spelman students to enjoy the benefits of a small college while having access to the resources of the other five participating institutions.

The college offers the Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees in 25 fields complemented by several academic programs including the dual degree in engineering, domestic exchange, study abroad, and the honors programs.

The current enrollment (2001-2002) consists of 2,100 students from 41 states and 15 foreign countries. These students are served by 145 full-time faculty with a student-to-faculty ratio of 14:1. The average graduation rate for Spelman students is 78 percent in six years or less.1

In May 2001, 103 of the 434 graduates received the Bachelor of Science degree in an area of science or mathematics. Thirty-five percent of the 2001 class planned to attend graduate school immediately.

In 1971 only 10 percent of the student enrollment pursued majors in the sciences.2 This percentage increased by 1977 to approximately 36 percent and has remained relatively stable through 2001 (see Figure 3.1).

FIGURE 3.1. Student enrollment trends at Spelman College from 1977 to 2001.


Student enrollment trends at Spelman College from 1977 to 2001. The chart compares total enrollments at the college, science majors, and chemistry majors.

The average enrollment percentage in the sciences by discipline from 1977 to 2001 is shown in Figure 3.2. Relative to all science disciplines collectively, the average percent enrollment of biochemistry and chemistry majors from 1977 to 2001 was 12 percent. The average percent of science graduates by major is shown in Figure 3.3. The average percent of graduates for all science disciplines collectively from 1977 to 2001 was 25 percent; the average percent of biochemistry and chemistry graduates during the same period was 14 percent. Comparison of the data in Figure 3.3 with the data in Figure 3.2 reflects a positive trend for graduates in the sciences.

FIGURE 3.2. Average enrollment percentages in the sciences from 1977 to 2001.


Average enrollment percentages in the sciences from 1977 to 2001.

FIGURE 3.3. Average percentages of science graduates by major from 1977 to 2001.


Average percentages of science graduates by major from 1977 to 2001.

Comparison data on the status of the sciences at Spelman College in 1977 with the current status (2001-2002) show both a longitudinal and a latitudinal growth (Table 3.1).

TABLE 3.1. Overview of the Sciences, Engineering, and Mathematics at Spelman College.


Overview of the Sciences, Engineering, and Mathematics at Spelman College.

Prior to 1977, the year that the Department of Chemistry was formed, there were only two departments in the sciences, biology and mathematics, complemented by programs such as nutrition and health services. However, students were able to complete the major sequence in chemistry and physics through formal arrangements with other nearby institutions in the AUC, particularly at Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University (then Clark College). A Central Dual Degree Engineering Office coordinated the transition of students from all AUC schools to the partner engineering schools in order to receive the additional engineering degree in a five-year program.

The picture is quite different now. The student enrollment in the sciences is approximately 700. The number of departments has increased to include chemistry, computer science, and physics. Biochemistry is actually housed within the chemistry department as a second major option. A concentration in environmental science has been added. With approximately 200 students interested in pursuing an engineering degree, there is now a dual-degree coordinator on campus. The number of faculty in the sciences has more than doubled since 1977 to 50.


When the chemistry department was established in 1977, there were 24 majors from the first year to senior level. The course offerings on campus at that time were limited to the general chemistry, organic chemistry, and biochemistry courses. That year, in 1977, three students graduated with a degree in chemistry. The department had a three-person chemistry faculty.

Currently, 92 students have declared themselves as chemistry majors, in either biochemistry, chemistry, or chemistry and dual-degree engineering tracks. The department is composed of 13 full-time faculty and a staff of 3 (2 laboratory technician and coordinators and an administrative assistant).

As indicated in Table 3.1, the growth and development of the chemistry department paralleled a growth in the sciences and the college. An increase in enrollment resulted in an increased demand from students for science course offerings on campus at Spelman College. Prior to 1977, chemistry courses, with the exception of the nonmajors course (for home economics and physical education majors), were offered through collaborative agreement with Morehouse College or other institutions in the AUC. Each of the partner institutions in the AUC experienced similar growth; classes filled early, and fewer students from Spelman could be accommodated. It became essential that Spelman take measures to increase resources on campus with additional faculty and additional courses. This was the impetus for the growth and development in the sciences that ensued in the years following.

The growth and success of the chemistry department in preparing African American women for the workforce, graduate school, and professional school were phenomenal during the next 20 years. A summary of this productivity in the department is evident most notably during the five-year growth period between 1993 and 1997 as summarized in Table 3.2.3

TABLE 3.2. Percentage of Biochemistry and Chemistry Baccalaureates Accepted to and Enrolled in Professional or Graduate School, 1993-1997.


Percentage of Biochemistry and Chemistry Baccalaureates Accepted to and Enrolled in Professional or Graduate School, 1993-1997.

It is a productivity characterized by an increasing number of graduates and a large percentage of students accepted into and enrolling in graduate and professional schools. During this same five-year interval the number of chemistry majors peaked at 155 in 1996, and the number of graduates peaked at 35 (including dual-degree engineering students) in 1997. Twenty students were accepted into Ph.D. programs. Prior to 1977, only one Spelman chemistry graduate had earned a Ph.D. degree. The total number of Ph.D. degrees earned by chemistry graduates from Spelman College since 1977 is 28; there are 25 Spelman chemistry graduates currently enrolled in Ph.D. programs.4

This averages approximately one Ph.D. degree per year over the 24-year history of the department. Given the current graduate enrollment and past success rate, the number of Ph.D. degrees earned by Spelman chemistry graduates should double within the next five years.

Spelman College chemistry graduates are characteristically well prepared and competitive in their postbaccalaureate pursuits. They are accepted into graduate programs at some of the nation's leading institutions. Table 3.35 complements Table 3.2 in listing institutions where graduates have matriculated.

TABLE 3.3. Graduate Schools Attended by Spelman College Chemistry Graduates, 1993-1997.


Graduate Schools Attended by Spelman College Chemistry Graduates, 1993-1997.

Spelman College's reputation for preparing successful graduates became eminent during this period. This success can be attributed to several factors and initiatives, many beginning in the 1970s. The initiatives and strategies implemented at Spelman formulated a model for success. Components of the models can be duplicated and can be found at other successful institutions.


Factors that contributed to the growth and development of the chemistry department and other disciplines in SEM include the following: visionary leadership, committed faculty, divisional structure in the sciences, implementation of specific retention strategies and programs, talented student pool, mentoring, research experiences, role models, recognition, and service.

Visionary leadership at Spelman is all-inclusive, emanating from both the faculty and the administration. The initiatives of the 1970s were faculty driven. Actions were taken to change the low status of science by concerned faculty who voiced their concerns to the administration. The administration was visionary in responding to the concerns of the faculty, planning for the future in science education, and partnering with faculty to support a comprehensive program to increase the emphasis on science and health careers.6

The commitment and dedication of the faculty are recognized as potent determiners in preparing successful graduates. Many of the returning chemistry graduates attribute their postbaccalaureate success to the devotion, interest, and commitment of the faculty in their undergraduate preparation. These faculty are receptive and responsive to the academic needs of their students, fully engage students in the learning process, encourage students to assume responsibility for their education, and take the necessary measures to ensure that the learning environment is not compromised. The faculty made a commitment to extended hours in assisting, counseling, and academic advising; holding special review sessions; coordinating and planning weekly seminars, mentoring activities, and special programs, including summer programs. Clearly, the impact of hard-working, committed faculty on students cannot be minimized.

One of the measures that was initiated early in the 1970s was the division organizational structure in which all the sciences were collectively housed under the leadership of one administrator. The implementation of this strategy was significant in that it produced cross collaboration among the faculty who became well acquainted with each other and set common goals. Faculty collaborated on not only curricular issues, but also on grant proposal writing, resulting in a number of funded grants in the science division that supported the development of faculty and students across departmental lines.

One of the most significant externally funded programs established was the Pre-Freshman Summer Science Program by the current president of Spelman College, Dr. Audrey Forbes Manley. This program began in the early 1970s and continues to the present. Summer science programs for incoming students have been important to the retention of students in science majors as they provide a bridge from high school to college. There are three bridge programs at Spelman including the Pre-Freshman Summer Science Program for incoming first-year students interested in health professional careers, the Summer Science and Engineering Program for incoming first-year students interested in careers in SEM (with an emphasis on graduate school), and the Post-Freshman Summer Science Program for rising sophomores. The Post-Freshman Summer Bridge Program was the last to be added in 1995. All of the bridge programs provide academic enhancement and academic career navigational skills. Students can earn academic credit in courses and progress to the next level.

The implementation of other divisional retention strategies in the sciences included the development of counseling and career guidance offices such as the Health Careers Office, the Office of Science, Engineering, and Technical Careers, the Office of Graduate Relations, and the Academic Success Office (formerly the Freshmen Success Office) for early intervention.

Within the divisional structure, infrastructure grants provided support to strengthen the curriculum, support to strengthen faculty through faculty development activities, and provided support for research activities for students. Research training grants were used as a retention strategy. With 85 percent of Spelman College students receiving financial aid, students were recruited to faculty laboratories to eliminate outside employment that adversely affected their academic success.

In its infancy the chemistry department had limited resources. Creative planning was key in providing the majors with a quality undergraduate experience. Research courses were developed in the chemistry department so that institutional supplies could be used to support student research; students could also earn academic credit in the research courses. As a result some students received training grants, others earned academic credit, and still others volunteered to join a research team without receiving either.

Students on the college work study program were also put in close contact with faculty as they were recruited to work in the chemistry department. Those who were highly successful were recruited to tutor in the department's tutorial program. Others were recruited to work as laboratory assistants.7 Both jobs gave them contact with faculty and helped them to feel a membership in the chemistry department. Students decided that service to the department should be one criterion for the receipt of departmental honors at graduation.

A talented student pool is an important component of the model for success. External scholarship funding has enabled the college to target talented students interested in doing science. Approximately 90 students receive scholarships through the Women in Science and Engineering Program, many of whom have a major in the chemistry department. Several other special programs have been established, funded by corporations and federal agencies, which support from 2 to 20 students with scholarship funds. Almost all such scholarship support is accompanied by assignment of a faculty mentor, a requirement to participate in research with faculty and to attend seminars, and opportunities to attend scientific conferences, often to give presentations on their research. Nearly all programs are available to chemistry department majors. These scholarship-based programs have proven to be extremely important in directing students toward graduate school and increasing the probability for success in graduate and health professional programs. Success predictors are based on standardized test scores, high school GPAs, high school activities, and rigor in high school courses taken.

The external scholarship program is a significant factor in recruiting and retaining science students. This strategy coupled with other factors, such as mentoring and research, are strong indicators for student success.

Mentoring of students by the faculty has proven to be a win–win situation for both groups. Faculty mentors benefit from interacting and bonding with students on a personal level. They learn about the students' goals, share ideas, and play a crucial role in the students' academic and professional development. Students benefit by developing a long-term relationship with faculty who can serve as their advocate, counselor, guide, and friend. Faculty mentors continue to encourage and support students after they leave Spelman to attend graduate or professional school, or to work. Students share their successes with mentors and serve as a valuable link to other students at the college and to other graduate students.

A significant amount of mentoring occurs between students and faculty in the research lab. Student research is considered a vital part of the science education program at Spelman College. Faculty actively engage students in research on the faculty's projects in most cases. In the case of very inexperienced students, specialized projects are designed for them. Students are mentored closely, encouraged to become independent thinkers, and to report their research findings to a larger audience. In recent years, more than 95 percent of the graduating chemistry majors participated in a research experience with faculty on campus in addition to external research experiences.

Role models are powerful catalysts in motivating students to higher achievement and career aspirations. Interacting with faculty who have shared cultural similarities encourages students to expand their knowledge and experience base. Scientists, engineers, and related professionals, including women and graduates of the department, are frequently invited to campus to share their experiences with current students. These activities motivate students to continue in chemistry and build their confidence. Students are encouraged to apply for summer internships; attend special research programs at other institutions, research facilities, and in industry; and pursue graduate and professional degrees.

Recognizing achievement gives students a sense of accomplishment. It builds self-esteem through positive reinforcement. The achievements of students in chemistry and SEM disciplines are recognized at various levels including the department, division, and collegewide. Recognition, certificates, and awards for service or leadership are given to chemistry majors appropriately at departmental events. A Science, Engineering, and Mathematics Day initiated in 1988 is an annual event (divisional) celebrating the accomplishments of students and faculty in the area of research. Students give oral and poster presentations on their research findings. Prizes are given for the best presentation in each category and discipline at a culminating awards ceremony. Since 1988 Spelman has witnessed a 57 percent increase in the number of science majors pursuing doctoral degrees in the SEM areas.8

Chemistry majors also receive recognition for their academic achievements at the collegewide honors weekend activities. Finally, most students engaged in research with faculty are provided opportunities to give technical presentations at regional and national meetings. These meetings give students visibility and provide an avenue for students networking with others in the profession. Students meet potential employers and faculty from various graduate schools.

Service is an integral part of the academic experience at Spelman College. It teaches students the value of their education and allows them to apply what they have learned in the classroom to practical, real-life situations. Chemistry students complete service experience by volunteering as laboratory assistants and as tutors and mentors on campus and in the local school systems. Service is a component of departmental honors.

The aforementioned factors collectively constitute a model with proven measures of success in preparing outstanding, high-achieving Spelman graduates in chemistry and SEM disciplines. These graduates are strong, positive role models who continue to bring honor to Spelman College. Given the successes, current status of the science education program, and available resources, Spelman College is poised to increase its leadership role in producing minorities in the chemical workforce.


We are grateful to the many individuals and offices at Spelman College who provided information, data, and reports for this presentation including Dr. Etta Z. Falconer, Senior Advisor to the President of Spelman College; Mrs. Gwedolyn Johnson, Office of Institutional Research and Assessment Planning; Dr. Fred Buddy, Registrar; and Drs. Gladys S. Bayse and Albert N. Thompson, former Chairs, Department of Chemistry and Office of Academic Affairs, respectively. Special thanks are extended to Mrs. Shrinda Faye Jackson and Mrs. Tracey L. Parrish, administrative assistants, Department of Chemistry, and Ms. Kennita Carter who helped in preparing the report.


Robert L. Lichter, The Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation: What Spelman has accomplished is absolutely remarkable. I wanted to ask for some elaboration on a couple of detailed points.

Your list of ten success factors was not in order of priority, right?

Cornelia D. Gillyard: No, it was not in order of priority. It did not even follow the order in which we tried it. Let me say, we have tried a little bit of everything at Spelman.

Robert L. Lichter: It certainly helps to have a talented student pool. Not everyone has that luxury. I wonder whether you would also agree that having committed faculty is, if nothing else, essential—or, without having committed faculty, nothing else would matter. Would you agree with that rather extreme statement?

Cornelia D. Gillyard: Based on our history, I would certainly agree to a large extent. You have to have committed faculty, and it is not easy to find faculty who are energized and believe in the student and her potential. Like one of my colleagues said, during those times of adversity, we rose to the occasion of the challenges and found strength in the potential that we saw in the students. So, you have to have committed faculty that is open and receptive to the fact that, just because a student does not have a 4.0 or even a 3.0 GPA, they may have other strengths that the graduate school admission committees will see in them. A key factor would be one-on-one research they had done in addition to their academic studies.

Robert L. Lichter: That is the point I was trying to get at, and it conforms to the point that was made by Marvin Makinen at an earlier session.

The other question I had was if you could elaborate a little on what you mean by the expression “research experiences.”

Cornelia D. Gillyard: Let me start off from a very basic initiative. Our first original research experience or research training experience with students was actually from the National Institutes of Health under the heading of the Minority Biomedical Research Support program, the undergraduate Minority Access Research Careers program, for example.

We have those types of programs that provide faculty with release time to do research and that also provide time to purchase supplies and equipment and that pay students a stipend to come into their laboratory and spend a minimum of 12 hours in the laboratory per week and be full time during the summer.

We now have faculty with pure research grants who take on students in their laboratory working on their research initiatives. They copublish. They present the findings at conferences. That number is much smaller than the broad-based research training programs. We also have a number of scholarship programs that have research as a component.

The programs vary in terms of the length of time that research experience lasts. For the most part, as long as a student has a scholarship, they must do research during the semester. It may not be as extensive as the research training program with specific guidelines, but those students work with a faculty member.

Sometimes the scholarships provide supplies for the faculty and that is it. Other scholarships do not provide supplies.

Then we have the more recent initiative to bring the students aboard in terms of research that provides, at the end of their freshman year, research courses to acquaint the students with methodology and the idea of research, in preparation for entering a faculty lab. The faculty is supported in terms of supplies and travel, and students get a stipend. So, it covers the gamut.

We do have a few programs in which research is a requirement, but there is no specified time length in terms of years or semesters or hours that must be spent in the lab. Most of those programs have a minimum of five hours. Students cannot earn credit for academic research in a lot of these programs if they are not upper-level students. Our juniors and seniors are the students who can earn credit for research.

Let me conclude by saying that the research projects that students engage in range from ones that faculty devise for them at their level just to get them involved and acquainted with research to pure research on a faculty project.

Isai T. Urasa, Hampton University: I am from the other HBCU represented at this meeting. I am going to make a comment that I wanted to make earlier and to add a couple of statements to what you have presented here. A comment was made about the nurturing environment that HBCUs provide. It is obvious from this presentation that a nurturing environment is critical in preparing students for Ph.D.s. Without that environment, the students who leave to go to Louisiana State University (LSU), Virginia Tech, and other Ph.D. institutions would probably find it difficult to succeed. I think what is needed is more of such transitioning experiences.

There are working models out there. Some of them have been terminated. Most of these have been funded by federal agencies. There used to be a program that was supported by the National Science Foundation called Research Careers for Minority Scholars. That was a very effective program. Unfortunately, it is no longer operational. We would like such programs to be brought back. At one time we had over 70 students majoring in chemistry, which was a large number at Hampton University, thanks to that program. I think we need more interaction between the HBCUs and other minority institutions and the research institutions. The familiarity among faculty members would do a lot in helping students' transition from undergraduate institutions to Ph.D. institutions. I would also like to mention a program that we started several years ago with Virginia Tech, through which we sent five students who completed a master's degree program at Hampton to Virginia Tech for their Ph.D.s. These kinds of interventions, I think, are very effective.

Cornelia D. Gillyard: Spelman students who go away to graduate schools or other majority institutions with a different culture have experienced a similar culture shock. If you would allow me, I would like to relate the experiences our students initially had with the dual-degree program.

Most of our students in the dual-degree program matriculate at Georgia Tech. They would leave Spelman with very high GPAs—3.8, 3.9, 4.0. They would go to Georgia Tech and suffer tremendously. It was a different culture. Initially, I do not think—this is not to offend anybody—that the faculty there took the students seriously, because it was an arranged program. They did not initially consider them to be as talented as the students at Georgia Tech. What have we found, as more and more students went to Georgia Tech and were successful, through those early years, is that now our students leave Spelman and go to Georgia Tech and earn higher GPAs. We now have students that go to Georgia Tech and matriculate and earn 4.0 GPAs in the engineering field; and I do not know if Georgia Tech would admit it, but our students are certainly performing as well as, if not better than, some of their students who were not in dual-degree programs, but had matriculated there during all of their undergraduate career.

One success story is one of my research students, who was very talented. She worked in the laboratory like a graduate student and was intuitively inquisitive. She went to Georgia Tech and earned a 4.0. They recruited her as a presidential scholar. She is in their graduate program, passed her exams the first quarter she was in the graduate program, and is well into the experimentation.

We have to do something. We found that we will get a call or an email from students who go to graduate school and experience that shock. Of course, we talk through it, work through it, and I tell them give it another month.

Usually the first month is the critical month. We get the calls. Once we work through that and they get through that first semester or quarter, then they hang on and continue in the program. Nevertheless, the transition to a graduate school or majority institution is difficult.



Office of Institutional Research and Assessment Planning, Spelman College.


Falconer, E.Z. 1989. A Story of Success: The Sciences at the Science Department at Spelman College. Sage, 6(2):36–39.


Davis, S., and S. McBay. 1997. A Closer Look at the Role of Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the Production of African American Students Accepted into Medical School and Science-related Graduate Programs. Washington, DC Quality Education for Minorities Network, p. 16.


A.N. Thompson, immediate past Chair, Department of Chemistry, Spelman College.


Davis, S., and B. McBay. 1997. A Closer Look at the Role of Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the Production of African American Students Accepted into Medical School and Science-related Graduate Programs. Washington, DC Quality Education for Minorities Network, p. 16.


Falconer, E.Z. 1989. A Story of Success: The Sciences at the Science Department at Spelman College. Sage, 6(2):36-39.


G. Bayse, former Chair, Department of Chemistry, Spelman College.


Office of Sponsored Programs, Spelman College.

Copyright © 2003, National Academy of Sciences.
Bookshelf ID: NBK36317
PubReader format: click here to try


  • PubReader
  • Print View
  • Cite this Page
  • PDF version of this title (2.9M)

Recent Activity

Your browsing activity is empty.

Activity recording is turned off.

Turn recording back on

See more...