DETROIT (WWJ) — The National Science Foundation has awarded a $1.32 million grant to five Michigan universities for a project that will increase the academic success of underrepresented minority graduate students and postdoctoral scholars in STEM (science, technology , engineering, and mathematics) fields, as well as women graduate students in gender-imbalanced fields.

The project, Michigan Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate, is led by the University of Michigan in collaboration with Wayne State University, Michigan State University, Western Michigan University and Michigan Technological University. The alliance aims to strengthen the academic identity of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows by improving their mentoring relationships and engaging them in interdisciplinary learning communities.

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“The alliance aims to improve mentoring of our students and fellows by providing new programs for our faculty in evidence-based strategies for effective mentoring, as well as design individual mentoring tailored to the discipline and circumstances of each pair of faculty and student or postdoc,” said Joseph Dunbar, Ph.D., associate vice president for research and associate dean of the Graduate School at Wayne State University, and principal investigator of Wayne State’s part in the project. “In addition, we will design interventions to engage our students and postdocs in learning communities that will aid them to develop their research ideas and share their ideas across disciplinary boundaries, as well as engage in learning communities not only within their own institution, but with others across the state.”

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The ultimate goal of the project is to increase the number of underrepresented minorities and women graduate students to complete doctoral degrees, and ultimately guide them to pursue academic positions.

“This project will move our respective institutions and others who will learn from the models we develop, to address the urgent need to empower more of the nation’s talented women and underrepresented minority college students to pursue scientific and academic careers,” said Dunbar. “This is a superb program for the next generation of scientists and academicians.”

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The project originally began in 2004 with partners UM, MSU, WSU and WMU. Michigan Technological University joined the project in 2010.