- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 20, 2006

LEXINGTON, Ky.

Joshua Odoi, who plans to graduate from the University of Kentucky this year with a degree in mechanical engineering, notices a troubling trend among his classmates.

“Most of my classes, I’m the only black person,” said Mr. Odoi, a native of Ghana.

It’s a trend that officials in the Appalachian states of Kentucky and West Virginia also are noticing, which is why 10 colleges from the two states last week announced a cooperative initiative aimed at recruiting and retaining minorities for science, technology, engineering and math degrees.

The program gets its startup money from a $2.4 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

“Kentucky and West Virginia certainly were glaring in that the numbers [of minority students and math and science majors] were extremely small,” said A. James Hicks, director of the recruitment programs, known as the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation. “I said to a few people in Washington, ‘We need to do something about it.’”

The schools participating from Kentucky are the University of Kentucky, University of Louisville, Western Kentucky University, Centre College, Kentucky State University and the Bluegrass Community and Technical College. From West Virginia are West Virginia University, Marshall University, West Virginia State University and the West Virginia State Community and Technical College.

Within five years, Mr. Hicks is challenging the schools to more than double their number of minority graduates in the fields. If they reach the goal, more money will follow. And if they fail?

“There is serious embarrassment,” Mr. Hicks said.

University of Kentucky President Lee Todd, who is leading the two-state effort, said retaining minority students might be even more important than recruiting them. Too often students change majors midway through to find a less-difficult field, he said.

“There are so few kids in America right now who are raising their hands and saying, ‘I’m interested in math or science,’” Mr. Todd said. “We need to make sure we do everything we can for those who do raise their hands, to keep them in the system.”

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