Research News

Vanderbilt astronomer receives $50,000 fellowship to further racial equality

Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy Keivan G. Stassun has been awarded a $50,000 fellowship from the Fletcher Foundation to support his efforts to increase the number of underrepresented minorities pursuing scientific careers.

The Alphonse Fletcher Sr. Fellowship was modeled on the Guggenheim Fellowship and its purpose is to fund work on race relations or African American culture. The Fletcher Foundation is a private charity created by leading black Wall Street money manager and philanthropist Alphonse Fletcher Jr. to “invest in efforts, primarily education-related, that increase equality, justice and opportunity.” It is part of a $50 million initiative that Fletcher announced in 2004 on the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision to support institutions and individuals working to further the goals of the landmark decision.

Stassun will apply the award to develop a model of the Fisk-Vanderbilt Masters-to-PhD Bridge program in collaboration with researchers at Columbia Law School’s Center for Institutional and Social Change. In just five years the program has attracted 30 underrepresented minorities, 60 percent of whom are women; has become the nation’s top producer of blacks earning master’s degrees in physics; and is poised to become the top awarder of doctoral degrees to underrepresented minorities in physics, astronomy and materials science in 2010-11.

“The evidence suggests that the Bridge program works. But in order for it to be sustainable, scalable and translatable, we also need to know why it works and how it can be generalized,” Stassun explained in the project description. “The program has to date been developed on the basis of empirical data and experience-based best practice. We need now to tease out the underlying theoretical framework through which this practice can be understood, generalized and disseminated.”

Stassun will receive the award on Aug. 21 at a reception in Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., to celebrate the fifth year of the program.

Media contact: David F. Salisbury, (615) 322-NEWS