ATLANTA —The SREB-State Doctoral Scholars Program was honored with the prestigious John Hope Franklin Award for 2010 from Diverse: Issues in Higher Education magazine on March 26 at the annual meeting of the American Association of Blacks in Higher Education.
The SREB program joins an exclusive list of past recipients including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, poet Maya Angelou, and Johnnetta Cole, president emeritus of Spelman College.
The Doctoral Scholars Program, led by Director Ansley Abraham, is recognized nationwide for helping minority doctoral students complete their PhDs and pursue careers as college faculty members. The program provides multiple layers of support for doctoral students, including financial stipends, professional development, mentoring, networking and other services. Students must gain admission to participating doctoral programs on their own merits.
Many of the program’s 500 graduates are now college faculty members or work in education in the SREB region. The program teams with other groups to hold the Compact for Faculty Diversity’s Institute on Teaching and Mentoring, which gathers about 1,000 minority doctoral students and faculty mentors each year.
"Dr. Abraham has built a program that is based on cooperation between SREB states and networking among educational institutions" in the region, SREB President Dave Spence said during the awards ceremony. The program "increases the number of minorities and underserved people who earn doctoral degrees and prepare to be top researchers, teachers and scholars," Spence said. By doing so, it "helps so many others."
The John Hope Franklin Awards are named for the late historian and civil rights trailblazer who taught for decades at Duke University. He often presented the awards himself. The awards recognize contributions to higher education consistent with Franklin’s standards of excellence and are given to individuals and organizations that have expanded access and created opportunities in American higher education, said Maya Matthews Minter, the vice president for editorial and production at Diverse.
Abraham said he was humbled for the program "to be among the ranks of such distinguished past recipients" of the award. When the SREB-State Doctoral Scholars Program began in 1993, the numbers of minority Ph.D. earners and faculty members in the South were "woefully inadequate," he said.
Even with the SREB program’s success, only about one in 30 faculty members are racial/ethnic minorities in the United States, while about one in four students now are persons of color, Abraham said. "There is clearly a lot of work to be done," he reminded the audience. "The research shows that African-Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans obtain doctoral degrees at unacceptably lower rates than their majority-group counterparts." He thanked the SREB Board, state education officials, and the member states for standing by the program and believing in its value.
"All students are enriched by faculty who bring a diversity of ideas and experiences to the classroom and the laboratories," Abraham said.
SREB President-Emeritus Mark Musick described in the awards ceremony how he learned more about the minority faculty shortage at an education policy meeting nearly 20 years ago in Princeton, New Jersey. Musick noted that in 1990 the number of students earning PhDs awarded to African-American students in the South in mathematics could have fit into a Volkswagen Beetle. "The numbers were so awful, they were depressing, distressing and frankly bordered on criminal," he said. Musick traveled to Florida and conferred with Ike Tribble, who had developed the successful McKnight Doctoral Fellowship Program there about the possibility of a regional program for doctoral students. Tribble encouraged Abraham and Musick to use the McKnight model to develop the SREB program for 15 other states. Musick recalled then-University of North Carolina System President William C. Friday saying, "Do this."
The other recipient of the 2010 Franklin Awards was the Georgia Institute of Technology School of Engineering, for its nationally leading-edge efforts to boost the numbers of minority engineers.
This year’s winners "defy convention in terms of their approach and tenacity" to improve opportunities for minorities in higher education, said Diverse magazine publisher and co-founder Frank L. Matthews after presenting Abraham with the award medallion. "These two organizations, their records speak and exemplify the very best in terms of courageous leadership" that show "what can be accomplished when people of goodwill set about righting the wrongs of the past. … SREB and the Doctoral Scholars Program is truly a national model, and as a son of the South … I couldn’t be more proud of the fact that this program originates (in the region)."
Two SREB doctoral scholars were present for the awards ceremony: Dennise Turner, a Ph.D. student in history at Georgia State University, and Tolecia Clark, a postdoctoral researcher at the Georgia Institute of Technology who earned her Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Southern Mississippi.
Abraham recalled having met John Hope Franklin in 1998 during events marking the 50th anniversary of SREB’s founding. He read a Franklin quote declaring that he wanted to be "on the firing line, helping, directing or doing something to make the world a better place to live. I believe that’s exactly what we’re doing," Abraham said.
For more information about the program and the minority faculty shortage, contact SREB Communications.
The Southern Regional Education Board, or SREB, based in Atlanta, was created in 1948 by Southern governors and legislatures to help leaders in education and government work cooperatively to advance education and improve the social and economic life of the region. SREB has 16 member states: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia. More information is available online at www.sreb.org.