STEM Central

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At the Soul of Leadership – the Center for the Advancement of STEM Leadership

At the Soul of Leadership – the Center for the Advancement of STEM Leadership

When I left my tenured position at Hampton University ten years ago, I envisioned having an impact on STEM research and education at ALL Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). My career at my alma mater spanned 22 years and I held many positions - starting as an instructor, ending as the dean of the School of Science. Since then, I have worked tirelessly as the lead program officer for the HBCU-Undergraduate Program at the National Science Foundation to ensure that funding opportunities exist for HBCU STEM faculty to strengthen STEM education and research at these vitally important institutions. Through HBCU-UP, faculty can get funding for STEM research, education, and institutional transformation activities. A few years ago, I realized that HBCU faculty needed more significant funding to conduct research in and disseminate findings of those factors that contribute to the fact that HBCUs have been so successful in educating and graduating African American students in STEM areas. Therefore, beginning with the solicitation NSF 16-538, HBCU-UP announced a call for Broadening Participation Research Centers. These centers, housed at HBCUs, are “expected to represent the collective intelligence of HBCU STEM higher education, and serve as the national hubs for the rigorous study and broad dissemination of the critical pedagogies and culturally sensitive interventions that contribute to the success of HBCUs in educating African American STEM undergraduates” [1]. 


It is with distinct pleasure, great honor, and personal joy that I introduce you to the inaugural such center, the Center for the Advancement of STEM Leadership (CASL). I cite from the award abstract: “CASL uses a groundbreaking scholarly approach based in the success of HBCUs in broadening participation while also taking advantage of established and culturally-responsive research and theoretical frameworks. CASL is thus able to generate, analyze, and interpret broadening participation research questions about academic leadership. Designed to be the nation's premier research center examining and determining the kind of academic leadership that broadens the participation of African Americans and other underrepresented groups in STEM, CASL will use its knowledge to contribute to the development of next-generation HBCU leaders who can themselves contribute to continued broadening participation efforts” [2].

The Center for the Advancement of STEM Leadership is a collaborative effort between the lead institution the University of the Virgin Islands (NSF award #1818425), and its partners: North Carolina A&T State University (NSF award #1818459), Fielding Graduate University (NSF award #1818424), and the Association of American Colleges and Universities (NSF award #1818447). The principal investigators are Drs. Goldie Byrd, Kelly Mack, Camille McKayle and Orlando Taylor.  The center is funded at $9 million for a five-year period.


A recent report in the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Almanac of Higher Education by Peter Monaghan entitled:  The Making of a First-time President examines the factors that contribute to the success of many first-time presidents, including those at HBCUs [3]. Mentoring and leadership- training programs are described as being significant. But while the report hints at the importance of institutional culture and context, it does not convey that element as being at the core of and critical to leadership development.

This is where CASL’s contribution to the issues of leadership is vital, groundbreaking, and I dare say a little revolutionary. On CASL’s website one can learn what it means to be “At the Soul of Leadership” – to use the HBCU institutional context as a guiding framework in determining the correlation between leadership and broadening participation in STEM [4].  Guiding frameworks that use the context of HBCUs have been largely missing from the literature on leadership, as well as on STEM undergraduate education reform. Hence, I am excited that this is the first of many such centers to conduct studies to fill this void and to conduct research on HBCUs by HBCU faculty and experts at HBCUs and at their partner organizations that value and understand the HBCU context.

Please join me in congratulating the team of CASL PIs, researchers, administrators, and staff as we look forward to the groundbreaking work of this center.

With best wishes – Claudia


Claudia Rankins, Ph.D.
Senior Program Officer, HBCU-UP
Division of Human Resource Development
National Science Foundation

[1] https://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2016/nsf16538/nsf16538.htm

[2] https://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/showAward?AWD_ID=1818425&HistoricalAwards=false

[3] https://www.chronicle.com/article/The-Making-of-a-First-Time/24148

[4]  https://www.advancingstemleadership.net/