- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 12, 2006

RICHMOND — An exchange program will trade students between five historically black colleges and the University of Virginia for summer research projects.

Officials with the black schools say the exchange will expand their academic resources, while University of Virginia administrators hope it will boost the number of black graduate students and improve diversity at a campus with a history of racial unrest.

Exchanges could begin this summer, though officials are still working out details such as cost and whether students will receive credits, said Gertrude Fraser, vice provost for faculty advancement at the University of Virginia’s Charlottesville campus.

“Getting undergraduates to do research is what gets them excited and thinking about going to graduate school,” she said, adding that as professors retire, the demand for a diverse pool of advanced degree-holding instructors will increase.

The program also will promote collaborations between Virginia faculty and historically black colleges and universities — or HBCUs — by creating a computer database of opportunities for joint research, she said.

Officials of the University of Virginia are in talks with Hampton University; Virginia Union University, in Richmond; Norfolk State University; Virginia State University, in Petersburg; and St. Paul’s College, in Lawrenceville.

Miss Fraser said a 12-person board is deciding things such as which disciplines would be ideal for exchanges at each school.

“Hampton, for example, has some of the world-class astronomy and physics and also marine sciences,” she said. “That’s one where our students would probably be very interested because they can’t get it here.”

Elsie Barnes, Norfolk State vice president for academic affairs, called it a chance for students there to tap Virginia’s resources.

“We’re always looking for enhanced opportunities for students,” she said. “[The] University of Virginia is a more richly resourced institution than Norfolk.”

The program is an outgrowth of a 2004 University of Virginia diversity report that urged sustained partnerships with black schools. The report encouraged creating an office for recruitment of minority graduate students — targeting a segment of the student body that has lagged nationwide.

According to the census, in 2004, whites 25 and older held more than 10 times as many graduate degrees as their black counterparts, who had about 1.2 million such degrees. That year, Virginia blacks in that age group held 55,051 graduate degrees, compared with 508,251 among their white counterparts.

By offering students a chance to do research in fields they might have been interested in but couldn’t find at their institutions, Miss Fraser said, officials hope to stimulate minority undergraduates to pursue higher degrees.

At Virginia State University, where the only doctorate offered is in education, provost Eric Thomas thinks the program will help retain graduate students.

For University of Virginia students, the program will offer social as well as academic benefits — among them, a taste of the unique traditions that make up “the HBCU experience,” said junior Gregory Jackson, who’s helping promote the program.

“This would be a good way for us to kind of step beyond what’s here … what’s in our comfort zone,” he said.

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