African-Americans involved in the space program as well as various science fields have never been a large number, but now NASA, currently led by an African-American administrator, Charles F. Bolden, Jr., has partnered with the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) to help build science careers.
Last December, The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NAS) selected the United Negro College Fund Special Programs Corporation to administer a $1 million career development and educational program. The program is set up to address the shortage of American minority students in science and engineering fields.
“With the tremendous experience in connecting with minority populations that the UNCFSP Corporation brings, we are looking forward to taking the NAI MIRS Program to a new level,” says Carl B. Pilcher, director, NASA Astrobiology Institute, NASA Ames Research Center.
The funding will be provided by the NASA Astrobiology Institute’s (NAI) Minority Institution Research Support (MIRS) program. In all, it will be a four-year program and will provide opportunities for up to four faculty members and eight students from minority-serving institutions to partner with astrobiology investigators.
“The award to the United Negro College Fund Special Programs Corporation (NOT the United Negro College Fund, a related, but separate, organization) was the result of a national competition for an organization to administer the NASA Astrobiology Institute’s Minority Institution Research Support (MIRS) program, ” explains Pilcher. “The UNCFSP wrote an exceptionally strong proposal, drawing on their extensive experience reaching and serving all minority communities in the U.S.”
The United Negro College Fund Special Programs Corp. has a database of 14,000 registrants and they plan to use this database to develop an online community to provide webinars, virtual training and videoconferences, and provide outreach and recruitment for program participants. The program’s objective is to engage more teachers from under-represented schools in astrobiology research and increase the number of students pursuing careers in astrobiology.
“Our nation’s underserved populations are a tremendous resource on which we must draw, not just for science, but for everything we do,” says Pilcher.
Founded in 1998, NAI is a partnership between NASA, 14 U.S. teams of universities and other organizations, and 6 international consortia. NAI’s goals are to promote, conduct, and lead interdisciplinary astrobiology research, train a new generation of astrobiology researchers and share the excitement of the field. It is part of NASA’s Astrobiology Program. The institute initiated the MIRS program in 2002 as part of its mission to help train a new generation of researchers in astrobiology and increase diversity within the astrobiology community.