Symposium to Build Research Capacity at HBCUs


Launched by the Quality Education for Minorities (QEM) Network, a “National Symposium to Build Research Capacity at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) through Collaborations with STEM Advocates and Practitioners” took place on September 12-16, 2018. It was hosted together with the 2018 Annual Legislative Conference (ALC) of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. The Symposium was held in response to the lack of minority representation in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields. As pointed out by QEM, Historically White Institutions (HWIs) have been receiving greater funding when compared to HBCUs, which reflects a systemic inequality that affects minority populations. While QEM recognizes that selection bias and other systemic racism issues are likely to have contributed to the issue, the network also indicates the possibility of addressing the issue through building HBCUs’ capacity. As a result, the Symposium was meant to promote change by directing HBCUs’ attention toward STEM and obtaining external funding in its fields.

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According to QEM, the Symposium was developed in direct response to the Dear Colleague Letter, “Further Strengthening Research Capacity at Historically Black Colleges and Universities.” The letter pointed out the significance of HBCUs for promoting STEM education among minorities, in particular, African Americans. It further referenced the note by the National Science Foundation (NSF) regarding the significance of building HBCUs’ research capacity and promoting the awareness of NSF programs among HBCU researchers. These observations shaped the activities that were included in the Symposium.

Walter E. Washington Convention Center (Washington, DC) became the site that hosted both the Symposium and ALC. In particular, the Symposium’s two-day capacity-building workshop and the Research Action and Practice (RAP) Forum, which took place on the second day, were carried out at the Center. The Symposium used those activities to achieve its primary objective of building the research capacity of HBCUs. The workshop was employed to promote collaboration and awareness of the programs of NSF among the participants. The forum was meant to support HBCU-led research in a way that would direct it toward STEM. Finally, a community of practice was intended to enhance collaboration within HBCUs with the goals of promoting STEM research and improving HBCUs’ institutional capacity.

To evaluate the Symposium, QEM and HBCUs developed a survey that was administered to the HBCU representatives attending the event. In addition, the participants’ session notes were obtained for this report. By using the raw data from these two sources, the present report will provide a narrative of the lessons learned from the Symposium’s experience with a focus on the critical elements of funding success identified by it. Furthermore, the paper will apply this information to provide recommendations to various stakeholders, including HBCU researchers and administrators, policymakers, STEM advocates, and program directors at the agencies that are responsible for funding educational institutions. Based on the findings, it can be concluded that the Symposium’s experience can be used by all the mentioned groups to empower HBCUs to develop STEM research and education.

Lessons Learned

The survey that the Symposium used for evaluation included 15 questions. Four of them were multiple-choice questions, and three more consisted of five-point Likert scales, which were used to provide ratings to different statements. The rest of the questions were open-ended. This section of the report will narrate the survey’s findings and interpret them to extract valuable lessons about the Symposium, its attendees, organization, and content.

Institution and Participants: Characteristics

This subsection will consider the characteristics of the participants of the Symposium. QEM aimed to involve researchers and administrators from multiple HBCUs. To achieve that, QEM contacted chief research officers and other administrators from HBCUs and invited them to consider the members of the faculty and other HBCU staff who could potentially participate in the event. In the end, a total of 52 representatives from 28 HBCUs took part in the Symposium. Unfortunately, not all HBCUs were represented, but the majority of the institutions that were involved by QEM did attend (see Table 1).

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Table 1. Participating Institutions
Institution Representatives (%) Number of Representatives
Lincoln University PA 5.77% 3
Alabama State University 3.85% 2
Albany State University 3.85% 2
Benedict College 3.85% 2
Central State University 3.85% 2
Claflin University 3.85% 2
Clark Atlanta University 3.85% 2
Delaware State University 3.85% 2
Dillard University 3.85% 2
Hampton University 3.85% 2
Jarvis Christian College 3.85% 2
Kentucky State University 3.85% 2
Lane College 3.85% 2
Langston University 3.85% 2
Lawson State Community College-Birmingham Campus 3.85% 2
Morgan State University 3.85% 2
Philander Smith College 3.85% 2
Saint Augustine’s University 3.85% 2
Southern University and A & M College 3.85% 2
Southern University at New Orleans 3.85% 2
Southern University at Shreveport 3.85% 2
Tennessee State University 3.85% 2
University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff 3.85% 2
Cheyney University of Pennsylvania 1.92% 1
Fayetteville State University 1.92% 1
North Carolina Central University 1.92% 1
Prairie View A & M University 1.92% 1
Virginia Union University 1.92% 1
Alcorn State University 0.00% 0
Grambling State University 0.00% 0
Howard University 0.00% 0
South Carolina State University 0.00% 0
University of the District of Columbia 0.00% 0

HBCU representatives that were invited to participate in the Symposium included STEM researchers and administrators. The majority of them held the posts of Vice Presidents for Research, associate professors, or full professors. Apart from that, Sponsored Program Office Staff and directors constituted a large portion of the participants. Other than that, representatives from assistant professors to deans reported participating. See Tables 2 and 3 for the complete list of the positions of the participants.

Table 2. Participants’ Positions (Survey Options)
Answer Choices Responses (%) Number of Responses
VP of Research 21.28% 10
Full Professor 19.15% 9
Associate Professor 17.02% 8
Assistant Professor 8.51% 4
Chair 8.51% 4
Sponsored Program Office Director 8.51% 4
VP of academic affairs 6.38% 3
Provost 4.26% 2
Sponsored Program Office Staff 4.26% 2
Instructor/Lecturer 2.13% 1
Table 3. The List of Other Participants’ Positions
Number Post
1 Center Director
2 Associate Vice Chancellor for Research and TTO (CRO)
3 Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs
4 Research Director
5 Director
6 Dean
7 Director of Institutional Research
8 Associate VP of Research

The majority of the representatives also demonstrated notable experience of working at an HBCU. Only 38.46% of them reported having less than five years of experience at their institution; the rest of them (32 people) had greater experience with their HBCU. Four of the participants stated that they had worked at their HBCU for more than 25 years, and three more reported having between 20 and 24 years of experience. Also, equal numbers of people (seven) stated having between 5 and 9 and between 10 and 14 years of experience with their institution. The rest (11 people) reported that they had worked at their HBCU for 5 to 9 years. Thus, even though not all the HBCUs from the US were represented at the Symposium, the event still invited multiple experts who had significant experience in HBCU management and research.

The Impressions of the Participants: Symposium Structure and Activities

The survey that was prepared by QEM was meant to, among other things, determine the impressions of attendees. Mostly, the questions were related to structure and activities; the survey also requested recommendations and other comments, which generally yielded the information pertinent to the same topics. One of the first questions asked the participants whether it was difficult to form a team that would attend the Symposium. The absolute majority of the HBCU representatives noted no issues at all. Only 5 participants stated that they had experienced some difficulties, but even they described those difficulties as minor. Thus, 90.2% of the participants found it easy to form a team for the event. The rest of the responses will be narrated below since they require more extensive consideration.

The Impact of the Symposium on the Participants’ Knowledge. The participants were invited to describe the impact of the Symposium on their knowledge. They used a five-point Likert scale, and they expressed their agreement or disagreement with the statements which suggested that the Symposium provided them with particular information. For example, a participant could be asked to agree or disagree with the statement that the Symposium had increased their knowledge about NSF’s funding opportunities. They could either strongly agree, agree, disagree, strongly disagree, or remain unsure.

The majority of the respondents (roughly 98%) agreed that the Symposium helped them to learn more about the national priorities in STEM research in education. Forty-two of them (80.77%) reported a strong agreement with the idea. However, one participant strongly disagreed with it, implying that they did not learn much from the Symposium on this topic. Similarly, the absolute majority of the participants (42) strongly agreed that the Symposium helped them to learn more about NSF’s directorates, and seven people simply agreed with it. However, one person remained unsure if their knowledge was improved in this regard, and another one strongly believed that they did not learn anything on the topic. Also, seven people agreed and thirty-seven people strongly agreed that the Symposium provided them with new information about NSF’s funding opportunities, and a large number of participants either agreed (16 people, which amounts to 31.37%) or strongly agreed (33 people, which amounts to 64.71%) that they learned a lot about NSF’s internal mechanisms. The rest of the participants either failed to answer, remained unsure, or disagreed with the idea.

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Slightly more than 50% of the participants expressed a strong belief that the Symposium expanded their knowledge regarding the critical elements for success as related to building HBCUs’ research capacity. Twenty-three more people (44.23%) also agreed with the idea, and only two people (3.85%) remained unsure about this. Another area in which the majority of the participants agreed was the advancement of their knowledge concerning the value of partnering between HBCUs: 35 people (70%) strongly agreed with this statement, and 12 more (24%) simply agreed with it. Also, most participants (41 people) strongly agreed that the Symposium helped them to understand the significance of the community of practice for STEM research promotion, and the rest of them simply agreed with the idea. Finally, 63.46% of the participants reported strongly agreeing with the suggestion that the Symposium taught them about the significance of connecting research to policies with 16 more people (30.77%) agreeing with the statement, and three people remaining unsure.

Less cohesion was shown in the participants’ assessment of the impact of the Symposium on their understanding of the research that was conducted at other HBCUs: only 32.69% of the participants strongly agreed that they learned something new in this regard, and 38.46% more also agreed with the idea. However, 19% of the respondents remained unsure, two people disagreed (3.85%), and one person strongly disagreed (1.92%). These figures still show a rather high percentage of participants (around 70%) learning new information in this area, even though this item of the survey demonstrates a less overwhelming approval of the Symposium than other ones. As a result, it can be suggested that the absolute majority of the participants learned a lot from the Symposium.

The Value of the Diverse Activities of the Symposium. The participants provided their assessment of the Symposium’s activities using another five-point Likert scale, which described them as extremely not valuable, somewhat not valuable, somewhat valuable, or extremely valuable. It also presupposed the possibility of remaining unsure. Furthermore, in addition to the Likert scale, the participants left some comments about each activity to express their opinions or provide suggestions for improvements. The following conclusions can be made based on the provided data.

The absolute majority of the participants reacted favorably or somewhat favorably to all the activities. The panel discussion by Program Officers appears to have received the greatest approval with 39 participants (75%) describing it as extremely valuable and 10 participants (19.23%) labeling it as somewhat valuable. Furthermore, almost 60% of the respondents described networking opportunities as extremely valuable, and 57.69% assigned the same label to plenary sessions. 50% of the participants suggested that the Panel discussion by HBCU Chief Research Officers was extremely valuable, and roundtable discussions received that assessment from 48.98% of the Symposium’s attendees. The number of participants who described these options as somewhat valuable was also rather high. The networking reception was enjoyed by the participants the least, but it still received favorable assessments: 32.69% described it as extremely valuable, and 50% termed it as somewhat valuable.

Certain criticisms were also voiced. Networking reception and networking opportunities were deemed somewhat not valuable by two people each (3.85%); the rest of the activities received the same label from one person each (1.92%). Also, plenary sessions, roundtable discussions, and both panel discussions were described as extremely not valuable by two people each. However, the critical assessments were in the minority. Very few people remained unsure about their evaluation.

When leaving individual comments, the participants offered both positive statements and criticisms. The plenary sessions received seven comments, and the participants described the staff as knowledgeable and content as “excellent” and “insightful.” One of the comments suggested that the activity could benefit from taking more time so that it could be less “compacted.” Also, one of the participants found it difficult to engage in the activity since they had not had the opportunity to rest after their trip. Finally, one participant stated that the activity did not provide them with new information; they would rather consider another topic, in particular, the campus infrastructure and its adjustment to the needs of stakeholders.

The roundtable discussion comments commended active participants and their expertise; one of the attendees also noted that the discussions were program-specific, which was a plus. However, two of the seven comments described the lack of time as a disadvantage of the activity, and two participants reported the lack of information that would be relevant for them. In addition, one participant faced an organizational issue; they were unable to take part in the roundtable discussion because of being involved in another activity at the time.

The panel discussion by Program Officers received six positive comments and no negative ones. The participants described it as informative, helpful, and “the best”; they stated that the discussion expanded their knowledge. While one comment did touch upon the time issue, it was more positive than the previous ones: instead of implying that the discussion did not have enough time to accomplish its objectives, the participant stated that they wanted to have a longer discussion. The panel discussion by HBCU Chief Research Officers received a similar comment, in which a participant reported wanting more of this activity. Other comments noted the value of the activity, but one of them also suggested that the breaks for the discussion were not needed. In general, though, each of the four comments for this activity had a positive component.

The networking reception received four comments, and two of them pointed out the difficulty of attending an activity after a long day and a trip to the Symposium location. One of the participants had to leave, and another one found that the reception had to be cut short as a result of people being tired. One participant suggested focusing on introducing groups into the reception, and another one commented on talking with many people as a result of this activity. Overall, the reception’s comments were not entirely positive. The general networking opportunities of the Symposium got five comments, two of which highlighted the importance of the activity for developing relationships with colleagues. One of the participants suggested that more of their faculty could benefit from attending the Symposium. The main suggestion was to provide more time for it, particularly for brainstorming.

To summarize, the individual comments generally reflect the Likert-scale-based assessments, but they can also help to understand the latter. In particular, the comments demonstrated that the networking reception might have received its relatively lackluster response because it took place very late, which left many participants rather tired. In addition, the comments provide direct suggestions on improvement, which are concerned with the time allocated to different activities. However, it should be pointed out again that the absolute majority of the participants found at least some value in all the activities, and most of them received quite favorable responses and often very enthusiastic comments. It would appear that the Symposium’s choice of activities was a success.

Overall Symposium Rating. Another Likert scale-based assessment required the participants to rate the overall success of the Symposium. The scale ranged from poor to excellent with five points. The only element that was described as poor by any participant was the length of the symposium: one person (1.92%) expressed this opinion. Two more people described this aspect of the event as fair (3.85%), 12 as good (23.08%), 20 as very good (38.46%), and seventeen as excellent (32.69%). Overall, the length of the symposium appears to be the least liked aspect of it.

Conversely, the clarity of goals received the highest assessments with 34 people praising it as excellent (65.38%), 13 people describing it as very good (25%), and five people claiming it to be good (9.62%). The usefulness of the Symposium’s materials was similarly described as excellent (63.46%), very good (25%), or good (11.54%). The organization of the symposium was also mostly positively received: 23 people labeled it as excellent (44.23%), 20 believed it to be very good (38.46%), and nine participants described it as well (17.31%).

Eventually, the participants were invited to review the Symposium overall and rate it. Most people (65.38%) assessed the Symposium as excellent; eight people believed it to be very good (15.38%), and nine people described it as good (17.31%). One person described it as fair (1.92%). To summarize, the findings of the overall Symposium rating suggest that it was generally positively received, but its duration appears to have been lacking in the opinion of some of the participants. This idea correlates with the previous survey findings, namely the open comments about different activities.

The Most Valuable Aspect of the Symposium. The survey ended with three open-ended questions that were meant to provide the participants with the opportunity of expressing their impressions without the constraints of having to choose particular options. The first one of them was concerned with the most valuable aspect of the Symposium. At least two people suggested that everything about the Symposium was valuable, refusing to rate different activities. However, 49 people provided more specific responses. The opportunity to meet with NSF staff was directly described as the most valuable Symposium activity by 17 people. In addition, a few participants commented on the availability of the information about programs and grants as a major plus without mentioning NSF or its staff.

Six people directly described networking as the most valuable aspect of the Symposium. Furthermore, the opportunity to discuss and cooperate with other people was also mentioned by multiple participants in different ways; for example, some of them directly praised the opportunity for meeting and sharing ideas or learning from colleagues while others focused on the discussion activities and commended them. Some people commented on the possibility of forming connections as the greatest asset of the Symposium.

The information provided by the Symposium was praised by the majority of the participants in one way or another; for example, they commended the possibility of learning about NSF programs (particularly, grant opportunities), the national STEM priorities, and future research directions. At least two people directly commented on the way the Symposium helped them to see new opportunities. Furthermore, the attendees described individual activities as very valuable, including meetings, discussions, and presentations.

Thus, the responses to this question demonstrate that the participants found it easy to discuss the positive elements of the Symposium. In addition, their comments suggest that the Symposium’s activities were well-chosen and that they assisted in achieving the desired goals. In particular, the participants noted the opportunities for increasing one’s knowledge about NSF and the promotion of collaboration, both of which are the Symposium’s objectives. However, certain aspects of the Symposium received greater approval, especially the dissemination of NSF information by NSF staff. These findings may help to develop future similar events.

The Least Valuable Thing about the Symposium. Another question required the participants to consider the least valuable thing that they had encountered during the Symposium. Thirty-two of the participants stated that no issues could be found or simply did not respond to the question. However, a few suggestions were provided. Several people discussed the problems with logistics and food; one person commented on the problem of the lack of rotation during the first break session, and one person also stated that coffee could be helpful. Another person discussed the lack of hot food and noted that arriving at the conference a day before its beginning would make the participants less tired. Two more attendees recommended paying attention to the environment, describing the reception room as “not conducive to networking” because the seats in it were located along its perimeter. One suggestion was to change the location of the Symposium to an NSF site to facilitate access to NSF staff, which supports the participants’ approval of NSF staff discussions. Finally, one person pointed out that due to being held together with ALC, the Symposium could prevent its participants from visiting ALC and participating in both of them to the full extent.

Furthermore, several people commented on the time-related constraints and organization of the sessions. According to one person, the Symposium had too many presentations for the discussions to have enough time. Another one simply suggested that making the schedule less packed and extending the Symposium would help. It should be pointed out that another participant described the intense and compressed nature of the Symposium as a positive aspect of it. However, the complaints about the lack of time had been raised in response to other questions as well (in particular, that of individual activities), which suggests that the Symposium might have needed more time indeed.

In addition, certain individual activities were described as the least valuable ones in response to this question. One participant was dissatisfied with group discussions, and another one criticized the discussion on institutional policy changes for being theoretical. Another attendee suggested that plenary sessions were not the most useful ones while pointing out that they remained helpful. One more person requested more information about NSF programs since he or she considered them very valuable. Finally, one participant suggested adding more information about HBCU’s research portfolio.

In summary, it appears that the participants were reluctant to call particular elements of the Symposium the least valuable. Many of them skipped the question altogether, and some felt the need to point out positive elements before mentioning anything negative. Also, many of the attendees may have responded to this question by considering problems in general rather than deciding to report the least valuable element. Still, their responses can be used to check the Symposium for certain issues, particularly organizational ones.

Recommended Improvements. While the previous questions could be used to glean some information about how the Symposium could potentially be improved, a separate question was also dedicated to this topic specifically. The recommendations generally echoed the previously discussed concerns. Three participants directly suggested checking their previous responses to avoid repetitions. Eleven participants avoided responding or stated that they could see no issues with the Symposium. The rest, however, provided some helpful suggestions.

A key concern of the participants was time. At least fourteen people commented about it in different ways with the majority of them recommending extending the Symposium to more than two days. One of the participants pointed out that the reason for the duration of the event was probably connected to costs, but they still insisted that the two-day period was not sufficient. Another participant pointed out that the daily programs needed to be shortened because participants became too tired to participate by the end of each day. As an alternative, they proposed adding more breaks. In addition, people commented on more time being required for particular activities as they had in the responses to previous questions.

Two people commented that breaks were insufficiently long and that they did not have enough time to eat. In general, the participants seemed to find some problems with eating logistics. One participant noted that breakfasts were not very well-organized; another one suggested that the break between breakfast and lunch was too long. One participant asked to provide coffee; two people suggested that snacks could help to solve the issue. The question of breaks appears to be connected with that of food; apparently, the participants felt tired and hungry during the Symposium too often.

Other logistics concerns were also mentioned. One person commented that the notice for the Symposium was rather short. Another one recommended inviting the participants to arrive the day before the Symposium to have a chance to sleep after traveling. Three people found the location of the hotel insufficiently convenient, but they had different recommendations. One of them suggested that finding a hotel that would be closer to a train station would make the participants more mobile, but two other participants stated that the hotel needed to be closer to the Symposium site. One participant recommended paying more attention to the coordination of facilities and transportation. A recommendation to have all sessions in the same facility was also made.

Finally, suggestions about additional activities or more participants were proposed. One attendee stated that brainstorm sessions could be helpful, and two more noted that more HBCU administrators needed to attend. A participant suggested that the workshops were too organized, apparently implying that more creative freedom would improve them. One participant noted that providing some handouts in preparation for the Symposium could be helpful. Finally, one participant recommended extending networking sessions with more representatives from different HBCUs since they found them crucial.

In summary, the majority of the participants’ recommendations reflected their concerns and uncovered certain issues about the symposium. Predominantly, organizational problems were reported, especially those related to time management. The recommendations on the content of the Symposium were scarce, which seems to fit the findings demonstrating the participants’ approval of this aspect of the event. Therefore, the results of the analysis of this question of the survey are in line with those of the Symposium’s overall rating.

Other Comments. The final open-ended question of the survey was included to provide the participants with the opportunity to leave any other comments or suggestions that they might have. Twenty people did not respond or stated that they did not have any comments; one participant reported that their responses to the previous questions were enough. Thirteen more people used the opportunity to thank QEM and everybody involved in the event for launching it while praising the Symposium for being “eye-opening,” “encouraging,” and “informative.” One person stated that they would love to attend the next Symposium, and another one suggested hosting it in Birmingham. However, some participants also commented on certain issues.

The major problem that concerned the attendees remained organization. One participant recommended inviting people to arrive at the site the day before the symposium again. The same person also reported that for some of the attendees, hotel rooms were inaccessible until 3 PM, which made them change in bathrooms. One participant commented on the need to extend meal breaks, especially since the attendees had traveled to the site. Another person noted that some NSF representatives could not be reached with questions because they had to leave early. In addition, content-related recommendations were offered: one participant suggested having more proposal workshop focus, and another stated that the establishment of regional and local HBCU forums would be a good idea for promoting STEM at HBCUs. One participant also wondered if NFS would be as receptive when reviewing HBCUs’ proposals as during the Symposium. This is a new concern that was not expressed by anybody else, but it does present the participant’s worry about the results of the Symposium being relevant for them and their institution.

To summarize, several participants used this question to make recommendations and point out issues. As a result, the survey’s design, which may initially appear redundant, demonstrates the usefulness of including items that allude to similar topics and prompt similar responses. This way, the analysis of all the items helps to investigate the participants’ impressions in greater detail. The fact that the responses about issues generally cover the same concerns suggests that the survey might have achieved data saturation. As for the rest of the responses, they can be used to prove the value of the Symposium since they indicate genuine gratitude for the opportunities presented to the attendees.

Post-Symposium Plans of the Participants

Among other things, the Symposium was supposed to provide its participants with the information and motivation for future action. The Survey gathered data describing the intentions of the participants to form partnerships and promote research and STEM education. These data can be used to imply the effectiveness of the Symposium in affecting its participants, and it also indicates their interests and the potential for sustainable improvements in HBCUs prompted by the event.

Potential Partnerships

As it was mentioned, the promotion of collaboration was one of the key objectives of the Symposium. The survey attempted to determine if it was achieved. 90.2% of the participants found that the networking and other activities of the Symposium may have resulted in potential collaboration. Furthermore, 44 participants specified their collaboration plans. Three of them commented that they wanted to collaborate with all the HBCUs that participated in the Symposium; also, four respondents noted that they had not decided on the partnerships that they wanted to explore. One more respondent commented that he or she was not sure about actually collaborating with a particular campus. However, according to them, the Symposium provided them with the information and perspective that is likely to facilitate such decision-making in the future. The rest of the participants provided specific, direct comments about the individual HBCUs that they wanted to choose as their partners, which suggests that the Symposium achieved its goal of promoting collaboration.

NSF Program Proposals

As one of the key objectives of the Symposium, the participants were provided with crucial information about NSF, and one of the topics was their grant programs. The survey found that all 52 participants had plans to submit proposals to NSF programs, and only three of them noted that they had not decided on the specific program yet. Also, one more person responded broadly, suggesting that they would be trying different programs. The majority specified particular programs, and some of them included HBCU Up, EAGER, INCLUDES, BIO, DRK-12, and GEO. Therefore, it can be stated that the Symposium successfully informed attendees about NSF research opportunities, achieving its goal.

Future Steps to Promote STEM Education

Finally, the participants were asked about their plans that were related to the promotion of STEM education. Forty-nine responses were gathered through this open-ended question, and most of them introduced one or two potential future actions. A common theme was that of collaboration; two participants used the words “partnership” and “collaboration,” but a few others also described their plans for meeting with other people, indicating their willingness to collaborate. In addition, a participant noted the desire to keep the partnerships that they had created during the event. Thus, the attendees reported using collaboration to advance STEM education, and partnerships within an institution and outside of it (between different HBCUs, for example) were mentioned.

Another theme that was present in some responses was the sharing of the information obtained at the Symposium with other people, especially with one’s colleagues. Some of the participants intended to use roundtable discussions, workshops, and webinars to this end, but others mostly considered the possibility of meeting with various administrators. This theme was also expanded by some of the participants to include the discussion of the recommendations from the Symposium and their use for forming direct plans with their HBCU administrators.

Given that many of the participants were researchers, a number of them also responded by highlighting their research-based contribution to STEM education promotion. They discussed their current or future papers and considered the possibility of using NSF programs for funding. On the other hand, many of the participants were administrators, which also affected their responses. Their comments described the intention to conduct assessments in their institutions and eventually, build their research capacity. The latter outcome would be achieved by developing relevant strategies and plans and creating new STEM-promoting programs and workshops. The programs, in turn, appear to consist of reviewed, revised, or new policies, training, and new incentives for the faculty to pursue STEM research. Furthermore, attracting funding for the development of such programs was also mentioned.

Thus, the participants’ responses to this question demonstrated several things. On the one hand, the Symposium appears to have achieved its aim of calling people to action. No participant failed to respond to it, and everybody specified their plans that would have a positive impact on STEM education at their HBCU. It can be argued that some participants planned actions that would affect other HBCUs as well, for example, through collaboration. Furthermore, the responses of the participants reflect the objectives of the Symposium. Thus, the Symposium intended to improve the participants’ knowledge regarding NSF, and some participants already started making plans about applying that knowledge. Similarly, the Symposium was meant to promote collaboration between participants and other HBCUs, and this fact appears to have affected the participants’ plans as well. Also, the responses directly reflect the content of the Symposium’s activities, suggesting that the attendees have internalized relevant lessons. Since the primary aim of the Symposium consisted of building research capacity in HBCUs, more or less every plan detailed by the participants is likely to contribute to this outcome, which highlights the effectiveness of the Symposium in achieving its goals.

On the other hand, a few issues can be reported. First, most participants did not provide detailed plans; many were satisfied with specifying one step that they wanted to take. As a result, many of the participants did not mention the possibility of sharing the information from the Symposium, which may have limited its dissemination. Similarly, most participants did not discuss using the information from the Symposium to form strategic plans for building their HBCUs’ research capacity. Given that not all the participants could be viewed as administrators, this tendency makes sense, but the primary goal of the Symposium consisted of fostering change in HBCUs. As a result, this limited attention to driving systemic change in institutions may be viewed as a problem. Still, the participants might not have detailed all of their plans; they were asked to consider the actions that would promote STEM education, and each of them provided a short response, which is why it is plausible that they would use other means to foster change in their institutions.

Critical Elements of Success

According to the Symposium, the primary element of HBCUs’ success consists of finding external funding for research. By obtaining the Symposium’s session notes, this report can detail the information about the critical elements of this success that were identified by the participants during the Symposium’s activities. The four elements that are presented below were offered by QEM as the key themes established through the analysis of the Symposium’s materials. The themes unite the factors that can affect one’s success in obtaining funding, including ones that promote (driver) and restrict (barriers) it. The discussion of these factors is especially important for making recommendations on how to achieve the successful promotion of STEM education and research in HBCUs.

Changing Mindset

Drivers. Particular mindsets can become drivers of their own, and the mindset of success is a prime example. However, the majority of drivers in this category are concerned with paying attention to the assets available to an institution. First, it is necessary to acknowledge that researchers, students, and administrators are important: it is crucial to recognize their potential and, with the help of supportive leadership, promote their collaboration and success. Second, notable attention needs to be paid to research: it is vital to acknowledge the need for funding it and reward the people who conduct it. The rewards do not have to consist of money and anything else; rather, the recognition that a researcher receives is also significant. In connection to that, innovation is a driver for research; it needs to be fostered at different levels. Finally, the topic of leadership needs to be revisited. Leadership connects the above-mentioned assets in that a leader is the one expected to support and promote the collaboration of researchers and administrators, foster innovation, and ensure the recognition of research. The important aspects of leadership that are reported by the Symposium include cultural diplomacy and creative use of incentives. By promoting the appropriate mindsets, HBCU faculty and administrators can enable the drivers for their institutions’ success.

Barriers. The key barriers to this element of success are concerned with the lack of resources and means of promoting it. Thus, the lack of relevant programs, infrastructure, equipment, and even staff prevents an institution from successfully sustaining research. Similarly, insufficient understanding of the significance of transformative and applied research can become a mindset-related issue since basic research is less likely to be funded. Deficient communication of opportunities is a barrier, as well as the lack of motivation exhibited by the faculty. Finally, high turnover rates may exacerbate the mentioned issues, especially motivation- and staffing-related ones.

Changing Institutional Culture

Drivers. Some of the key drivers that are related to changing institutional culture may be a part of that culture. In particular, the Symposium stressed the significance of the mission and strategic plan of an institution in directing its activities, as well as the policies (including cost policies), procedures, and productivity metrics that are in place. Also, the reputation of an institution was mentioned as an asset. The stakeholders of an institution are also very important, especially leaders and senior managers who are likely to promote HBCU success. In addition, the environment can matter because certain locations and resources are a driver. Furthermore, the structure of an institution needs to be considered; organization charts can help to determine accountability. Other than that, it is important to engage stakeholders; after all, researchers require incentives, and they need to be informed about opportunities available to them. STEM research advocacy can be used as a vehicle to achieve that, as well as different forums that can be established for faculty and administrators. Finally, it is important to pay attention to leadership and the cultural competencies of the leaders. The Symposium identified numerous culture-related facilitators to HBCU success.

Barriers. The theme of cultural change is the one that is associated with the greatest number of barriers to successful funding. First, instabilities were described as a problem; they included problematic turnover rates, unstable leadership, as well as inconsistencies in leadership, and obscure leadership (the lack of transparency). Furthermore, deficits were noted, and they included the lack of relevant programs, infrastructure, time, funding, and staff; the notion of deficit mentality was also brought up during the Symposium. In addition, bureaucracy was described as a major barrier. Silos working, communication issues, inefficient or insufficient planning, distant administrators, insufficient policies, and inappropriate resource allocations can be viewed as leadership-related concerns. Furthermore, reputation might not necessarily be an asset; ineffective branding can prevent an institution from receiving funding. Finally, it should be mentioned that institutional habits and status quo may constrain any change; therefore, they constitute a prime example of a cultural change-related barrier to proper funding. This element of success can be used to demonstrate that the barriers and drivers can be interrelated; while effective activities, policies, and leadership choices are a driver, ineffective ones are a barrier.

Developing Relationships

Drivers. At least six drivers were identified during the Symposium for developing relationships. First, a good strategy on relationship development is crucial; if an institution has a clear mission-linked understanding of which relationships it wants to pursue, the process of obtaining external funding will be facilitated. Second, the engagement of stakeholders was noted as a major factor. This leadership activity presupposes identifying the people who could potentially have a stake in the activity that an individual or institution attempts to foster (that is, stakeholders) and engaging them in said activity. In addition, the development of cross-disciplinary research and promotion of awareness and collaboration between the stakeholders is necessary. Third, modern-day technology was commended for its ability to bring people together. Examples that were offered during the Symposium included phones, as well as particular applications, for instance, WebEx. They can be employed to develop relationships that can be used to promote researchers’ collaborations. Finally, varied symposiums, conferences, and similar meetings were discussed. This factor demonstrates the significance of the Symposium and the reasoning for launching it; the event was explicitly geared toward achieving collaboration between HBCUs, which is synonymous with the described element of success.

Barriers. Multiple barriers to this element of success were identified as well. First, despite the existence of modern-day technologies, people are still separated by significant traveling distances that are also associated with notable costs. As a result, certain institutions and their faculties may benefit from being located close to an institution that they wish to foster relationships with (for example, NSF), but others may be denied this opportunity. In addition, the organization of institutions themselves may be a factor. For example, the design of a campus can affect the likelihood of people in it interacting, which can result in reduced interactions in certain cases and prevent relationships from forming. Finally, the lack of strategic alignment between the agenda and the mission of an institution can be a problem; it is necessary to ensure that the development of relationships is strategically sound and likely to be beneficial in the long term.

Seizing Opportunity

Drivers. A primary driver for seizing funding-related opportunities is the staff, particularly their competence. Setting targets for them is a good idea since it will promote the search for opportunities that are likely to benefit the institution. In addition, the Symposium’s activities identified the drivers present in small-sized classes; a low student-to-faculty ratio is associated with more hands-on learning, which, in turn, fosters research and, therefore, promotes the likelihood of successful search for external funding.

Barriers. The barriers associated with seizing opportunity are more numerous than its drivers. They include biases, especially internal ones, about HBCUs not producing high-quality research, as well as the lack of time and effort that could be dedicated by the faculty to said research. Furthermore, misconceptions related to research, in general, are also important, including, for example, those about the areas of research that are especially significant for modern-day society. Finally, the lack of information or understanding of opportunities available to researchers is a barrier, and so is the limited exposure to them.


The Symposium identified more barriers to pursuing and obtaining funding than drivers. However, a lot of the elements that were grouped into different themes are similar or directly connected. As a result, they can be summarized as follows. The key drivers for success include empowered stakeholders, strategic planning and alignment, effective and culturally sensitive leadership, good organization, a conducive environment, and continuous information dissemination. On the other hand, bad leadership and organization, as well as various deficits, especially the lack of information, infrastructure, and motivation, are significant barriers. By changing the mindset and organizational culture to enable HBCUs to develop relevant relationships and seize existing opportunities, HBCU leaders and faculty can help them to achieve success in obtaining funding and, as a result, promote STEM research and education.

Summary and Recommendations

HBCU Administrators and Researchers

The findings of the Symposium can provide HBCU researchers and administrators with crucial recommendations on obtaining external funding, as well as developing an infrastructure that would sustainably enable it. First, given the number of barriers to effective search for funding that were identified, it would be recommended to investigate and assess an institution for potential issues. They commonly include the lack of necessary policies, procedures, or strategies. Furthermore, non-transparent leadership and lack of accountability can result in a misallocation of resources, which is another major problem. In general, ineffective leadership can be an issue, and one of the factors that can serve as an indicator is high turnover rates. Bureaucracy, the lack of strategic alignment, negative institutional habits can all be rectified, although it can be difficult. Budget deficits and campus design that is not conducive to collaboration should also be determined. Finally, it is very important to examine how the information about the research is disseminated and researchers are incentivized to seize relevant opportunities.

Having identified the issues, it is also necessary to consider the advantages. Various cultural elements, including the institutions’ mission and mindset, might be helpful, as well as its attitudes toward research and incentivizing and recognizing researchers. Similarly, good, supportive leadership and clear, transparent organization may be assets. Effective policies are important as well, but the most important advantage of any institution is its stakeholders. The researchers and potential researchers are the mechanisms through which STEM research is promoted, and the appreciation of this fact is a primary driver of obtaining funding. In addition, partnerships, especially existing ones, are necessary, but the allocation of time and effort to fostering prospective relationships and collaboration is also clearly justified.

Next, the topic of disseminating information about research and research opportunities needs to be considered. The survey of the Symposium provided crucial lessons related to it. First, it demonstrated that the dissemination of information is vital for HBCUs. The overwhelmingly positive responses of the participants suggest that they lacked the knowledge delivered by the event and were able to gain a lot of necessary data from it. The survey also showed that the interest of the participants particularly gravitated toward NSF-related data and developing partnerships.

Moreover, the experience of the Symposium helped to identify some effective methods of disseminating the information, including plenary sessions, various discussions (especially with the representatives of Program Officers), and networking. It should be mentioned that the survey cannot be used to prove the effectiveness of these methods, but it demonstrates the participants’ approval which is also associated with their impression of obtaining crucial information through these activities. Therefore, they are at the very least viable and can be employed in other similar events. Finally, the Symposium demonstrates the significance of paying attention to the organizational aspects of the launching of such events. Given the importance of motivated, engaged stakeholders, taking into account their tiredness, hunger, and logistics of transportation seems to be worthwhile.

Program Directors at Federal Agencies

The Symposium was focused on informing HBCU representatives of how they can obtain funding and otherwise promote STEM research. Program Directors participated in preparing and conducting the event, however. Given that the Symposium reflects a real-world issue of HBCUs remaining underfunded when research is concerned, Program Directors from various federal agencies can still obtain some information from it, especially in case they want to work with HBCUs and promote STEM research within them.

One of the primary findings of the survey is that HBCU representatives are very interested in communicating with Program Directors. At the same time, there is a possible lack of cooperation between them, which is reflected in the fact that, as evidenced by the survey, the Symposium’s participants required more information about research opportunities and NSF procedures. Therefore, a sensible solution for Program Directors who want to change the currently existing disparity between HBCUs and HWIs would be to foster relationships between governmental institutions and HBCUs. Those relationships can be used to enable information exchange, which would ensure the engagement of HBCUs in STEM research. Furthermore, this cooperation can help to dispel the persistent internal and external biases about the value of research conducted by HBCUs. Thus, by QEM’s objectives of enabling cooperation and information dissemination, the Symposium provided the data which demonstrates the significance of these two outcomes and can be used to call Program Directors to action.

Policymakers and Advocates

The Symposium provides some valuable lessons to other STEM research and HBCU stakeholders, including policymakers and advocates. First, the existing approaches to the dissemination of information related to research opportunities might have been proven to be ineffective by the Symposium’s attendees, given their expressed need for more data on the topic. As a result, the consideration of policies that could enhance them is an option. Among other things, recommendations to federal agencies on informing institutions (both HBCUs and HWIs) about prioritized areas of research, funding opportunities, and other details could be helpful. It should also be noted that STEM advocates are a major factor in promoting information dissemination, which they can do independently of policymakers.

Second, the survey suggests that the Symposium was a success from many perspectives, but a lot of organizational issues affected it. As indicated by some of the participants, funding shortages may have resulted in such problems; a better-funded symposium could last longer and might potentially offer better food, accommodations, or transport. Both policymakers and advocates can, therefore, promote the funding of future similar events, which, in turn, would result in more opportunities for communication and collaboration between HBCUs and other stakeholders.

Moreover, the session notes demonstrated that very common issues which can hinder funding are associated with ineffective leadership and organization. It is especially noteworthy that transparency and accountability problems are a barrier. Various forms of misconduct, including misallocation of funds, can also be described as a part of this set of concerns. All of them can be mitigated with the help of effective policies proposed by policymakers and tailored to the needs of a particular region or state. Thus, both policymakers and especially STEM advocates can promote STEM in HBCUs by fostering or even creating communication, research, and collaboration opportunities. Even though the Symposium was not targeted at these populations, its experience has provided some information that they can use if they intend to support HBCUs.


The present report focused on narrating the information that was gathered about the Symposium with the help of its evaluation survey and session notes. It further used this information to suggest recommendations for diverse groups of stakeholders. While the survey contained a lot of information about the technical details of launching the Symposium, the session notes predominantly offered the data about its content. The findings suggest that HBCU faculty and administrators are interested in communication and collaboration with each other and NSF program directors, as well as in obtaining the information that will help them to learn about relevant research opportunities. Program Officers, policymakers, and STEM advocates can respond to this need and promote STEM research, as well as reduce the gap in funding between HBCUs and HWI. By fostering collaboration and meaningful relationships, the different stakeholders can empower HBCUs to seize the crucial research funding opportunities and sustain the mindset and culture that would promote STEM education and research within them.

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