MIAMI – As humanities departments of universities around the country lack Latin professors, a University of Pennsylvania's five-year program will link Latin students from South Florida with five prestigious research institutions.
The Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions will select 90 students from Florida International University, the University of Texas and California State University. The students will participate in research at New York University, the University of California-Berkley, Northwestern University and the University of California-Davis.
FIU has a majority of students from the Caribbean and South America. And despite that, the school had a challenge with maintaining a diverse faculty, according to Elizabeth Bejar, FIU's vice president for academic affairs.
"This is not a problem that can be fixed overnight," Penn Center for MSI director Marybeth Gasman said. "We see this program as a way to begin a fundamental change."
Only about 4 percent of professoriate in the country identify as Latinos, according to the Penn Center for MSI, which will be running the program with the help of a $5.1 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Mariët Westermann, vice president at the Mellon Foundation, said the past decade has seen considerable gains in doctoral degree attainment for Latinos, but that is not enough.
"These gains have not kept up with the growth of the U.S. Hispanic population," Westermann said.
The Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions will build on the pipeline programs at historically black colleges and universities, Westermann said.
Northwestern's provost Daniel Linzer said the program will give them an opportunity to become more inclusive. A coordinator will work to help the students selected with their applications, housing and financial support packages, so the students can work with faculty mentors on research development.
U.C. Davis provost Ralph Hexter said his institution is also making changes to how hiring decisions are made.
"There is tremendous talent in so many places," Hexter said. "We need to enhance our ability to recognize and appreciate it."