Sloan UCEM Grant is Renewed

The University of South Florida has been awarded a $630,000 research grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation for renewal of its University Center of Exemplary Mentoring (UCEM) grant.  Managed by the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering (NACME), the award provides an additional $630,000 over the next three years for a total of over $4 million from the Sloan Foundation to support minority doctoral STEM education since 2005. USF is the only university in Florida, and the only non-AAU institution, along with Cornell University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Pennsylvania State University, MIT, UC-San Diego, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Duke University to receive the prestigious Sloan UCEM grant. 

Kiesha Pierre

Current Scholar: Kiesha Pierre, Ph.D. Candidate and AAUW Dissertation Fellow, Environmental Engineering 

“The Sloan program hosted a myriad of workshops that provided professional and personal development. The end of semester socials provided me a sense of community. I am grateful to my advisor, Dr. Andres Tejada-Martinez, and the Sloan UCEM for their roles in helping me to successfully navigate this doctoral journey.”

Michelle Guitard

Current Scholar: Michelle Guitard, Ph.D. Candidate, Geological Oceanography, College of Marine Science 

“The support I have received from my Sloan cohort and program directors has been helpful in navigating a research environment. There were issues I encountered as a member of an underrepresented group in STEM that I never anticipated, but I often found the answers within the Sloan community. Feeling supported, as a student and as a person goes a long way in retaining underrepresented STEM scholars. I feel very lucky to have found that in Sloan.”



Nekesha Williams

Alumni: Nekesha Williams, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Earth and Environmental Science, Saint Mary's College, California 

“I can state emphatically that without this program [Sloan], I would not have been prepared for my current position.  Specifically, the financial support provided through this program allowed me to simply be a student and fully immerse myself in my studies and research without having to worry about my livelihood.  The travel funding for conferences conference/ and meetings enabled me to promote my science as well as gain the knowledge necessary to prepare for a career in academia.”  

Diedra Hodges

Alumni: Deidra Hodges, Ph.D. ’09,  Assistant Professor, Department of Electrical Engineering, University of Texas El Paso 

“At the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), I continue the solar cell research started during my dissertation and credit USF, the Sloan Minority PhD program, the Florida Education Fund (FEF) McKnight Doctoral Fellowship, and the Department of Energy (DOE) for my success.  Continued support from my mentors at USF and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation grant will enable me to apply for and receive larger grants to advance my research and career endeavors.”



With this Phase III and final renewal, support will continue for domestic African-American/Black and Hispanic/Latino PhD students in the College of Engineering.  However, the UCEM will be expanded to include new doctoral students from the same historically underrepresented groups enrolled in Chemistry, Physics, Geosciences, and later on the Department of Mathematics & Statistics within the College of Arts and Sciences on the Tampa campus.  Over the next three years, 32 new students (84 during the nine-year UCEM) will be recruited and mentored while being supported with Sloan and USF funds.  The College of Marine Science will continue to be involved as an affiliate with its students eligible to participate in the UCEM mentoring and professional development activities.

The Sloan UCEM will be under the leadership of Dr. Jose Zayas-Castro, Professor and Executive Associate Dean in the College of Engineering, Dr. Randy Larsen, Professor and Associate Dean for Research in the College of Arts and Sciences, Mr. Bernard Batson, Director, Diversity Programs, College of Engineering, and faculty champions from participating departments. Strategic support to ensure implementation will be provided by the Deans from all participating Colleges, and USF institutional supporting units (Counseling Center, Office of Graduate Studies, and Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Equal Opportunity). 

Despite recent increases in the enrollment of underrepresented students within S&E graduate programs their numbers remain low with only 10 percent of earned doctoral degrees in engineering in 2017. Even more disappointing says Zayas-Castro, “diversity is worse within the faculty ranks, as URMs represented just 6.2 percent of tenured/tenure-track faculty in engineering in 2018.”

In response to the national need within entire domestic STEM workforce, the USF Sloan Minority PhD Initiative has supported 149 minority doctoral students and achieved an 86 PhD completion rate with alumni receiving positions within academia, industry, and government. Sloan scholars have received national awards (NSF, NASA, Fulbright, National Research Council, AAAS Science & Technology Policy, AAUW, Microsoft, and others).   

The primary goal of the UCEM will be to help institutionalize a culture of inclusive excellence within USF STEM departments where URM graduate students feel welcomed and valued.”  According to Zayas-Castro, “A key metric of the Sloan UCEM will be to help accelerate new research proposals  and private fundraising efforts that will continue USF’s national leadership of URM graduate student success initiatives (recruitment, retention, faculty mentoring, and professional development) after the end of nearly 20 years of Sloan Foundation funding in 2023.”