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Ethics

Systemic change needed to increase success of African American students in physics and astronomy, report says

by Jyllian Kemsley
January 11, 2020 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 98, ISSUE 2

 

After 2 years of investigation, an American Institute of Physics task force has recommended actions necessary to recruit and retain more African American students in physics and astronomy, with the goal of doubling the number of degrees awarded to such students by 2030. The proportion of bachelor’s degrees awarded to African Americans in these fields has dropped from about 5% in the late 1990s to less than 4% in recent years, the task force report says. According to the most recent data from the US National Center for Education Statistics, of the 31,268 bachelor’s degrees awarded in physical sciences and science technologies in 2016–17, 1,655 (5.3%) went to black students. The report outlines five factors that the task force found are key to the success of African American students and identifies measures that individual faculty, departments, and professional societies can take to address them:

Belonging: Fostering a sense of belonging is essential for African American students’ persistence and success.

Physics identity: African American students must perceive themselves, and be perceived by others, as future physicists and astronomers.

Academic support: Effective teaching and a strengths-based approach to academic support are necessary for African American students’ retention and success.

Personal support: Many African American students need support to offset financial burdens and stress.

Leadership and structures: Academic and disciplinary leaders must prioritize creating environments, policies, and structures that maximize African American students’ success.

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