The NASA Minority University Research and Education Programs (MUREP) was founded with the intent of ensuring access to NASA and other Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) careers for undergraduate and graduate students at minority-serving institutions (MSIs).
Currently, MUREP works with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), as well as Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs), Tribal Colleges and Universities, Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institutions, and others to recruit and retain underrepresented students in STEM fields.
In addition to facilitating internships and fellowships at NASA facilities and the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, MUREP also provides awards to universities and educational institutions to enhance their research, academic and technology capabilities.
How HBCUs Are Leveraging the New Grants
In July 2021, three HBCUs were selected for MUREP awards: Alabama State University, Florida A&M University and J.F. Drake Technical College. Each of these universities submitted a specific project idea that the award will fund.
- Alabama State University plans to implement a program to close the racial gap in engineering by providing students with access to researchers, experts and industry partners within that field.
- Florida A&M University will establish a multi-institution coalition to recruit students for a program that will provide hands-on experience in aerospace systems and technology.
- J.F. Drake State Community and Technical College will partner with NASA’s nearby Huntsville, Alabama-based Marshall Space Flight Center to implement an initiative for local high school students as well as college students. Starting as early as eighth grade, students will be supported through summer programs, research opportunities, mentoring and more to expand their access to STEM careers.
Each of the universities received $1.2 million to implement their proposed project in a three-year period.
These grants make up a portion of the approximate $18 million that MUREP granted this year to HBCUs and other minority-serving organizations, with the goal of supporting thousands of students of color studying STEM.
The Importance of Closing the Racial Gap in STEM Education
This work is critical: a recent study from the Pew Research Center on diversity in STEM careers found that progress to increase diversity has been very slow. Black and Latino people continue to earn degrees in STEM at much lower rates than their white peers. Moreover, the share of Black people in STEM careers is 9%, a figure which has not increased since 2016.
A study from the University of Illinois additionally found that students of color in STEM were more likely to experience racial microaggressions in their college classrooms and learning environments than their peers. Some students reported that they dropped or switched their major due to these microaggressions.
This is an issue that must be addressed, and many are working to do so. For example, Robert F. Smith, founding director and President of the Fund II Foundation, developed several initiatives to increase access to STEM careers for students of color. The Fund II Foundation founded internX, a program that matches students of color in STEM to internships across the country. Smith also created Student Freedom Initiative, a student-centered, evidence-based and holistic nonprofit dedicated to freeing students from the burden of student loan debt. The program aims to serve as a catalyst to help students attain the skills and confidence they will need after graduation to successfully choose their personal and professional pathways.
Speaking about Student Freedom Initiative and his work to increase diversity in STEM education and careers, Smith said, “The initiative is purposefully built to redress historic economic and social inequities and to offer a sustainable, scalable platform to invest in the education of future Black leaders. I urge others to join this important cause so that together we can liberate the human spirit.”
Learn more about Robert F. Smith’s work to provide greater access to STEM education and careers to students of color.