North Carolina Central University has been awarded $3.3 million by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) to support research and expand professional diversity in the field of advanced materials science.
The NSF’s Partnerships for Research and Education in Materials (PREM) will pair faculty and students from NCCU with those at Pennsylvania State University to create new materials, functions and applications, said NCCU Professor of Mathematics and Physics Marvin Wu.
“We have been doing work on nanomaterials for quite a while; this grant will allow us to engineer new properties and find new uses for them,” Wu said. “And Penn State has a world-class faculty and research facilities that we will have the opportunity to work with.”
NCCU Chancellor Johnson O. Akinleye said the university’s participation in the PREM program will enhance the learning experience for students interested in scientific research.
“This grant underscores NCCU’s commitment to provide a top-tier education for students in STEM,” Akinleye said. “Not only will the PREM partnership offer educational advantages, but also ensure that our students will gain significant skills necessary to move forward into advanced degree programs and establish fulfilling careers.”
Associate Provost Eun Park, dean of the Division of Research and Sponsored Programs, lauded the PREM program as an asset for the university, noting that materials scientists are highly sought-after as job candidates now and for the foreseeable future.
“The international quest for more efficient, functional and sustainable materials has grown exponentially in recent decades through development of new metals, polymers, composites and ceramics,” Park said. “There’s really no limit to the opportunities for students in this program.”
In addition to supporting high-level research, the NFS program was designed to bring more minority students into the field of materials science.
“PREM is not only about research, but educational and professional development in order to prepare students for successful careers,” Wu said.
The program provides resources for coaching on skills such as entering graduate school, applying for scholarships and interviewing for jobs in the field. Students will also be responsible for materials science-related outreach, including discussing their research in public forums.
According to a recent article in Science News, Black STEM majors made up only about 8 percent of bachelor’s and master’s degree recipients in the U.S. and 5.5 percent of doctoral recipients, despite comprising 12.3 percent of the population.
“A focus on diversity of students, faculty, and partners—paired with the revitalization of under-resourced research—is the foundation of PREM and has been the source of many successful outcomes,” said Debasis Majumdar, director of the NSF PREM program. “It expands national innovation capacity and a much needed, highly trained and diverse workforce, propelling U.S. leadership in STEM fields.”
Since its start in 2004, PREM has trained more than 125 postdocs, and has helped more than 1,500 students graduate with a bachelor's, master's or doctoral degree – most from underrepresented minority groups.
NCCU is among eight minority serving institutions that will participate in the project, which is co-funded by the NSF Division of Materials Research and the NSF Historically Black Colleges and Universities Undergraduate Program.
Other minority serving institutions listed among PREM awardees are Navajo Technical University; the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley; Clark Atlanta; Spelman College; New Mexico Highlands University; Texas State University; the University of Puerto Rico at Humacao; the University of Puerto Rico at Cayey; and Florida International University.