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How/Why Do We Establish Relationships With Minority Serving Institutions?

There are a number of reasons why majority institutions should reach out to minority serving institutions.

Access to students from under-represented groups - Many students begin their academic careers at minority serving institutions excellent reasons - financial, family obligations/expectations, the community of students, rapport with faculty, ... By establishing ties to 1 or more MSIs, departments at majority institutions can become part of the extended community of a MSI. Students are more likely to think of working with another department that has been on the scene at their home institution. In addition, it is very easy for faculty unused to different student cultures to misspeak or to send a conflicting message. By visiting MSIs, faculty from majority institutions can become more aware of some of these issues in a more structured environment.

Connections for students at the majority institutions - Most majority institutions have trouble developing a critical mass of under-represented groups. By having programs with MSIs the department at a majority institution reaffirms their commitment to an inclusive physics community. And students from under-represented groups at the majority school can become part of the effort reaching out to MSIs if they choose. Indeed, this kind of effort can be used as a reward for good performance, e.g., Students who do well in their courses are asked to be part of the students visiting …

Access to minority faculty - Just as a relationship with an MSI gives a department from a majority institution access to students it will also allow access to minority faculty. Many of the faculty at MSIs have a wealth of experience working with students from under-represented groups as teachers, researchers and mentors. Experience that many majority schools are still trying to develop.

Share resources - Many MSIs are strained financially. By establishing programs with MSIs majority schools can help stretch the resources at MSIs. Even simply providing speakers at no cost would help many of the departments.

How to start a relationship - To begin a relationship it is best to start small and simply. Perhaps simply exchanging speakers to talk about research or teaching initiatives. Then maybe inviting students and faculty to visit the research labs and offering undergraduate research experiences. Joint projects with student clubs can also be explored. A common error is to view this kind of program as vertical only with resources and opportunities flowing down from the majority institution to the MSI. But the best programs are more horizontal in nature with both schools seeing that they both provide valuable contributions. The selection of a partner MSI may start for geographical reasons, or common research agendas, or by seeing the students and faculty at meetings and responding to their development.

More discussion on establishing both vertical and horizontal bridge programs are in the exceptionally well crafted Increasing the Number of Underrepresented Minorities in Astronomy at the Undergraduate, Graduate, and Postdoctoral Levels (Paper I) from the AAS Committee on Minorities in Astronomy.

Though informal programs work very well, an interesting discussion of setting up formal programs of this nature is in The Smart Grid for Institutions of Higher Education and the Students They Serve, a report from the AAAS Diversity and Law project.