University celebrates minorities in the sciences

The Baltimore Sun

Shivonne Laird could have attended a pre-med program at the Johns Hopkins University on a full scholarship. But she chose the University of Maryland, Baltimore County's Meyerhoff Scholarship out of a sense of pride.

When she was invited to UMBC as a finalist in the program that seeks to increase the number of minorities in the sciences, she was awed by the talent surrounding her.

"When you're in a room full of people like that, you get the feeling that, 'Yes, we can do whatever we put our minds to,'" said Laird, who just completed a doctorate at Hopkins' Bloomberg School of Public Health. She plans to research health disparities between minorities and whites.

Hers was among the tributes shared at UMBC's Catonsville campus Friday during a symposium marking the program's 20th anniversary. Part celebration, part seminar, the event featured scholars and professionals discussing strategies to help minorities succeed beyond UMBC.

During a panel, Brian Wayman, a 1998 graduate who has a doctorate in mechanical engineering, stressed the need for minorities to be exposed to careers in the sciences as early as elementary school. Laird said students must seek mentors, especially once they leave the nurturing environment of UMBC.

Freeman A. Hrabowski III, UMBC president, said diversity in the sciences is essential in an era of global competition.

The program was the brainchild of Baltimore philanthropists Robert and Jane Meyerhoff, who were concerned about the low enrollment of black men in the sciences. The program is open to men and women of all races, but stresses minority recruitment. In two decades, 200 scholars have gone on to complete at least a graduate degree in the sciences.

"The bar is set at Ph.D.," Wayman said. "The program doesn't assume that minorities need something different, but that they can do just as well given the right expectations. The tendency in society is to set low expectations of minorities."

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