HBCU medical schools at Morehouse, Meharry, and Howard lead “social mission” metric – Annals of Internal Medicine

ResearchBlogging.orgReuters Health Executive Editor and proprietor of the excellent Embargo Watch blog, Ivan Oransky, was kind to alert me to this topical paper that appeared in Monday’s issue of Annals of Internal Medicine entitled, The Social Mission of Medical Education: Ranking the Schools.
To the credit of the Annals, the full text of the primary article is currently free. An accompanying editorial is behind the subscription wall.
The study was conducted led by Fitzhugh Mullan with Candice Chen, MD, Gretchen Kolsky, and Michael Spagnola from the Department of Health Policy at the George Washington University and Stephen Petterson, PhD from The Robert Graham Center was supported with funding from the Josiah Macy Foundation.
The authors developed a metric called “social mission” to rate US medical schools on their responsiveness to three major issues they cite as facing medical schools and policymakers: “an insufficient number of primary care physicians, geographic maldistribution of physicians, and the lack of a representative number of racial and ethnic minorities in medical schools and in practice.”

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HBCU Symposium discussion of math skills

In continuing our discussion of the Centennial HBCU Symposium held June 3-4 in Research Triangle Park, NC, I wanted to briefly follow up a theme that emerged several times across the diverse talks.

Outside of a high dropout rate, a major challenge to African-American students succeeding in universities is poor preparation in math skills from high schools. Of course, this is not just a problem of this demographic but, sadly, is a major challenge we see everywhere in the US and has been especially evident in our ScienceBlogs annual support of the DonorsChoose project.

This point seems obvious but math skills are far more important than just for success in the STEMM disciplines.

In the June 9th edition of The New York Times, Bob Tedeschi discusses a study (PDF) with senior author Columbia University business professor, Stephan Meier, on the role that poor math skills may be playing in the current mortgage foreclosure epidemic.

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NCCU Centennial HBCU Symposium – Setting the Agenda for Historically Black Colleges and Universities

HBCU Symposium.jpg
On June 3rd and 4th, I had the pleasure of attending a fabulous program on the modern role and future sustainability of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in the United States. The HBCU Symposium: Setting the Agenda for Historically Black Colleges and Universities was the culmination of the 100th anniversary of the founding of North Carolina Central University (NCCU).
NCCU is one of five HBCUs in the University of North Carolina system and among 11 such institutions of higher learning in the state (list and links here). I currently serve on the faculty of this institution.
For those unfamiliar, HBCUs were classified by President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Higher Education Act of 1965 as institutions established prior to 1964 with the intention of providing higher education to the Black community. There remain 105 such institutions today, primarily in established former slave states following the Civil War.
However, the original HBCUs were founded in the North prior to the Civil War by the generosity of Quaker, Episcopalian, and other abolitionist supporters of the day: what is now Cheyney University (1837) and Lincoln University (1854) in Pennsylvania and Wilberforce University (1856) in Ohio.
Our September 2008 post for National HBCU Week provides more introductory background on these institutions as well as a round-up of commentary around the blogosphere on the continued relevance of these institutions.
It is important to note that the special federal classifications of these institutions was not meant for any preferential treatment of Black students but rather simple parity with historically White institutions. But among public HBCUs, state higher education funding per student averages about 3/5ths that of historically White institutions, a fraction whose irony is not lost on me.

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HBCU scholars answer questions at NYTimes education blog

hbcu_logos2.jpgLast week, the New York Times college admissions and aid blog, The Choice, solicited readers for questions on US historically-black colleges and universities (HBCUs). These 105 HBCUs, primarily in the southern US, were defined by the Higher Education Act of 1965 as institutions of higher learning established prior to 1964 whose principal mission was and is the education of black Americans.
Answering questions received last week are African-American education expert, Dr. Marybeth Gasman, of the University of Pennsylvania and Dr. Walter Kimbrough, president of Philander Smith College, a private HBCU in Little Rock, Arkansas.
I admire both of these educators: Gasman’s work has provided me with an education on the history and relevance of HBCUs and President Kimbrough is one of the youngest college presidents in the US, dedicated to “cultivating a new generation of academically accomplished and socially conscious African-American students.” Kimbrough also maintains an active blog.
Both Gasman and Kimbrough were recognized by Diverse Issues in Higher Education among The Top 25 to Watch, a list that also included Princeton University professor and frequent TV commentator, Dr. Melissa Harris-Lacewell, who also writes for The Nation.
The first round of answers appear today at The Choice. Therein they tackle the first topic that comes up in any conversation, even among African Americans: what purpose do HBCUs serve today?

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#scio10 Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Session: Engaging Underrepresented Groups in Online Science Media

Thumbnail image for scienceonline2010logo.jpgNext weekend at ScienceOnline2010, I’ll be co-moderating a session on encouraging scientists and science trainees from underrepresented groups to participate in social media. I will be working with Damond Nollan, a social media specialist and Web Services Manager at North Carolina Central University (NCCU). Damond is the author of the aptly-titled blog, In The Mind of Damond Nollan. The whys and hows are what we hope to discuss in the outline below.
The reason for calling this the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Session stems from the fact that this conference has been held for the last four years over the MLK holiday weekend. It’s a practical time of year, just after the beginning of spring semester but before things get too crazy, the crappy January weather in North Carolina gives us great hotel rates and encourages people to stay inside and engage at the conference, and the Monday holiday allows for greater travel flexibility and cheaper airfares.
But the conference timing may keep some attendees away in their hometowns participating in local MLK activities. Therefore, we are introducing this session to celebrate the principles of Dr King in the context of online science communication: promoting social justice and eliminating racism in areas ranging from healthcare to scientific career paths, giving opportunity to those often left out of the conversation. In my case, that conversation involves increasing the diversity of the biomedical science community.
A longstanding example of the dominant demographic in science communication is the cadre of bloggers in the ScienceBlogs network and the repeatedly missed opportunities to increase diversity in this network. I announced last month my intentions to use this page and my white maleness to give greater voice here to that of underrepresented groups.
MLK_MainSt_close_021660.jpgThe conference is being held in Research Triangle Park, NC, part of the county of Durham, home to Duke University, North Carolina Central University, and Durham Technical Community College. Dr. King had ties to Durham and visited here several times as shown here from a photo shot on February 16, 1960 on West Main Street. On his immediate left is the Rev. Douglas Moore. The civil rights activist Moore, who now lives in Washington, DC, was the leader of the 1957 Royal Ice Cream sit-in where he led six African American students in protest to use the white entrance of a local business and request service at the counter. This event preceded the more famous Greensboro Woolworth sit-ins by two-and-a-half years. I had the rare pleasure of visiting with Rev. Moore a few weeks ago at the dedication of the Royal Ice Cream Sit-In historical landmark that I wrote about here. It was simply amazing to shake hands with him and chat for about five minutes with someone who worked with Dr. King. The source of the photograph, Gary Kuebke of the historic preservation blog, Endangered Durham, has a superb discussion of the Royal Ice Cream Sit-In here.
We plan to take a different angle from the Casting a Wider Net session being led by Anne Jefferson, although we are sure to have overlap – not a bad thing, IMHO.

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Learning about the readership – keep ’em coming

I wanted to issue a great big thank-you to all of you who came by to comment on the 4th anniversary of this blog and share with us who you are and why you read. After a slow start, a few blog links and Twitter-prodding by my colleagues got the commenting going full bore. I intend to respond to each of you in the comment thread but it may take a couple of days.
I have been very pleasantly surprised by how many of our readers are not trained as scientists but are simply interested in science or in the scientific topics we present here. That is completely AWESOME because one of my concerns is that science blogging might simply become a bunch of scientists talking to one another in a vacuum. But when we’re talking about engaging folks who care about science in their lives and want to learn more about it, well, you are the people who are very, very important to us.
Some of you have even been kind enough to write personal e-mails and for that I am very grateful. If it takes me a few days to get back to you, please don’t be offended. It’s lovely to get so much positive feedback, learn of your own personal reflections, and suggestions or ideas for writing that I hadn’t given much thought to previously. Yes, I will write back.
Finally, I just want to clarify our expanded mission for 2010: the increased representation of information on and for underrepresented minority groups in the sciences. Some commenters were concerned that such a declaration meant that I was going to abandon posts on pharmacology, natural products, and pseudoscience re-education.
Nope. We’re simply going to expand our posts to these other issues. That is why I asked for others to suggest to me their own announcements, essays, and links to information relevant to non-white, bespectacled, graying, goateed natural products pharmacologists. I figure that I can expand my coverage of these areas if other groups can make me aware of what they’d want to see on ScienceBlogs.
Here’s a good example, in fact, from the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute at Duke University calling for applications for faculty from the nation’s historically-black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to come study in Durham for a year in their area of research: paid, one-year residential fellowships ($40,000 to $60,000 depending on academic rank) and NO TEACHING REQUIRED. (HBCUs are notorious for teaching loads of four, three-credit classes per semester).
I’ll have a separate post on this next week, but that’s the kind of thing we can help to support without compromising our core mission of talking about drugs from natural sources. In fact, some commenters have even mentioned that I should consider talking about the ethnobotany and traditional folk medicines of underrepresented groups in the context of today’s science.
So, that’s all for now – just a big thank-you.
And if you wish to delurk and let us know about you and your interests, go on over to our 4th anniversary post and drop us a note in the comments!

Four for Pharmboy: Thank you and a mission modification

The Preamble

Four years ago today, I wrote my first post in the blogosphere over at the old Blogger version of Terra Sigillata. The post, entitled, A Humble PharmBoy Begins to Sow,” set out my mission to be an objective source for information on natural health remedies and drugs that come from nature, whether used as single agent prescription drugs or as botanical mixtures and supplements.
I read blogs for about six months before setting off on my own, primarily because I wanted to be sure my efforts were not redundant with others. Because I am academic and paid by a combination of federal research and state educational funds, I feel that I can provide an objective forum for discussing news and developments on natural products that is not driven by a need to sell a product.
While I do not write every day, I hope that I have succeeded in approaching that goal. I thank you for coming by to read, participate in the comments, and refer us to other blogs, your colleagues, and your friends and families. It has been a delight to meet many of you and grow to call you my friends and colleagues. I still get a particular charge out of being called “Abel” in person, especially when the person addressing me knows my real name nonetheless.

I command thee: Delurk!

I have been very fortunate this year to see an uptick in the number of regular readers that I believe may have been stimulated by our presence on Twitter. I’d like to get a feel for who you are and why you are here because I always like to serve the community who takes time out of their busy schedules to see what pixels I’ve scribbled on this electronic papyrus.
As my colleague and blog mentor, Orac, did the other day for his fifth anniversary, I wish to ask those of you who read to delurk and drop a note in the comments to share 1) your general background, 2) why you read, and 3) what other stuff you’d like to hear from us. I know you are out there, so I thank you in advance for sticking your head up, saying hello, and going back to lurking. In fact, you may find that commenting is kind of fun and may be something you’d like to do more often.
Since you are here, you already know my answer to #1 and why I write.
But here’s my answer to #3 and how I would like to move forward with this blog in the coming year:

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Haley Barbour proposal to merge Mississippi HBCUs meets with ire

Last Monday, Governor Haley Barbour of Mississippi dropped a bombshell in his new budget proposal. From the Jackson Free Press:

In his Nov. 16 budget proposal, Barbour announced that the state was facing a $715 million budget shortfall in fiscal year 2011 and another $500 million shortage in fiscal year 2012. In addition to merging the state’s HBCUs, he suggested many draconian budget cuts in response to the impending shortage.
“This budget proposes merging Mississippi Valley State and Alcorn State with Jackson State. No campus would close, but administration would be unified and significant savings achieved,” Barbour said in a release, expecting $35 million in savings from the mergers. “Our historically black universities would be united into a premier university with the land-grant agriculture and technical advantages of Alcorn, MVSU’s Delta campus and JSU as an emerging great urban university.”
Barbour explained that the Alcorn and MVSU campuses would still continue to function, although there would be a “rationalization” of class offerings at the campuses, implying the merger would result in classes and curriculums being cut.

The wonderfully-insightful Philadelphia attorney who writes the eponymous blog Field Negro first brought this story to my attention last Thursday after he was invited to attend the Minority Broadband Summit in DC, sponsored by the Alliance for Digital Equality. (btw, many thanks to Field for turning me on to the Alliance for Digital Equality in preparation for the ScienceOnline2010 session, Engaging underrepresented groups in online science media.”)
The story is quite emotionally charged, especially among students at the schools potentially affected, and has drawn increasing attention over the last week. Most online accounts I have found do not buy into the “premier university” argument of Barbour’s, citing instead that this merger would undermine the traditional strengths and missions of each university. Field’s comment thread is now running at over 140 and contains both positive and negative comments, ranging from perceptions this move is deserved given widespread fiscal mismanagement at HBCUs to the contention that HBCUs still serve an essential purpose in educating all underrepresented minorities and that their missions would be diluted by administrative merger into predominantly-white institutions.
I recognize that some readers may not be familiar with the term, HBCU. As a white Northerner who has now spent a third of his life in the South, I had not known that historically-black colleges and universities (HBCUs) were designated by the federal government as part of the 1965 Higher Education Act as, “any historically black college or university that was established prior to 1964, whose principal mission was, and is, the education of black Americans.”
There are currently 103 such institutions in the US, 41 of which are public institutions like Mississippi’s. This map and list from the US Department of Education will give you a feel for the broad distribution of these institutions.
As I wrote in my post for 2008 National HBCU Week,

[T]he African American community, sometimes supported by non-black supporters, had to establish their own universities as it was recognized that education was one path to equality. In fact, while nearly all HBCUs are south of the Mason-Dixon Line, the original HBCUs were in Pennsylvania (what is now Cheyney University (1837) and Lincoln University (1854)) and Ohio (Wilberforce University (1856)) and were established by the generosity of Quaker, Episcopalian, and other abolitionist supporters.

Why specifically should ScienceBlogs readers care about HBCUs and this Mississippi story?

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National Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Week: Examining the Modern Relevance of the HBCU

In the United States, this is currently National HBCU Week (presidential proclamation here) and yesterday marked the end of the annual academic conference on HBCUs (“Seizing the Capacity to Thrive!”) in Washington, DC. HBCUs span from Michigan and Ohio to Texas, Florida, and the US Virgin Islands – see here for the complete list and links to HBCUs.
Don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of HBCUs – as noted in my repost from last year, I didn’t until I went to college. I’ve updated the post here and and added a few new morsels of knowledge stemming from my own continuing education about the institutional missions and history of HBCUs.
Of you, always good-looking and erudite reader of Terra Sigillata, I ask that you provide in the comments your own reflections and opinions as well as more current blog links to commentary on the modern relevance of the HBCU. Many of these links are toward the end of this post and I also direct you to last year’s comment thread.


When I went away to college after the summer when MTV was first launched, I had never heard of the term, “Historically Black Colleges and Universities.” But during the following summer while taking organic chemistry, I lived in a dorm with two visiting HBCU students who were doing internships at a local pharmaceutical company. The gentleman who I grew closest to had come from Hampton University (then-Hampton Institute) in Virginia.
As a Yankee born the same year as the passage of US Civil Rights Act, I had not truly appreciated that African Americans, particularly in the South, had traditionally not been welcome at colleges and universities. As a result, the African American community, sometimes supported by non-black supporters, had to establish their own universities as it was recognized that education was one path to equality. In fact, while nearly all HBCUs are south of the Mason-Dixon Line, the original HBCUs were in Pennsylvania (what is now Cheyney University (1837) and Lincoln University (1854)) and Ohio (Wilberforce University (1856)) and were established by the generosity of Quaker, Episcopalian, and other abolitionist supporters.
I’m still embarrassed by my ignorance back then, in part because my Northeastern high school history classes usually began with the Industrial Revolution and the challenges faced by my post-Civil War, Eastern European immigrant ancestors.
So, I was happy to learn that since 1980, this second week of September (but this first week in 2009) has been designated by the White House as National HBCU Week:

In 1980, President Jimmy Carter signed Executive Order 12232, which established a Federal program “… to overcome the effects of discriminatory treatment and to strengthen and expand the capacity of historically black colleges and universities to provide quality education.” Each President since that time has subsequently issued an Executive Order on HBCUs, with President George W. Bush signing Executive Order 13256, Feb. 12, 2002. (Bush’s 2008 proclamation can be found here in PDF).

The preamble of President Obama’s 2009 proclamation provides a thoughtful reflection on the role of HBCUs in the United States:

For generations, education has opened doors to untold opportunities and bright futures. Through quality instruction and a personal commitment to hard work, young people in every part of our Nation have gone on to achieve success. Established by men and women of great vision, leadership, and clarity of purpose, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have provided generations of Americans with opportunity, a solid education, and hope.
For more than 140 years, HBCUs have released the power of knowledge to countless Americans. Pivotal in the Civil Rights Movement, HBCUs offer us a window into our Nation’s past as well as a path forward. Graduates of HBCUs have gone on to shape the course of American history–from W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T.Washington, to Langston Hughes and Thurgood Marshall. Today, in twenty States, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, these colleges and universities are serving hundreds of thousands of students from every background and have contributed to the expansion of the African American middle class, to the growth of local communities, and to our Nation’s overall economy.
This week, we celebrate the accomplishments of HBCUs and look to the future with conviction and optimism. These institutions will play a key role in reaching our ambitious national education goals, including having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020. As our Nation strives toward this goal, we invite HBCUs to employ new, innovative, and ambitious strategies to help the next generation of Americans successfully complete college and prepare themselves for the global economy. During National Historically Black Colleges and Universities Week, we recommit ourselves to never resting until equality is real, opportunity is universal, and all citizens can realize their dreams.

Each year about this time, the US Department of Education sponsors a week-long conference in Washington, DC, with specific themes: in 2008, it was HBCUs: Established to Meet a Need, Evolving with the Times, Essential for Today and Tomorrow and in 2009 it’s Seizing the Capacity to Thrive!.

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R U @WordCampRDU?

WordCampRDU is a community oriented one-day conference on all things related to the blogging and website platform WordPress. There are tracks for beginner and advanced WordPress users with presentations and useful information. WordCampRDU will be highlighted by a much anticipated keynote speech by WordPress Founder, Matt Mullenweg. http://wordcamprdu.com/2009/

This is my first “camp” conference after having gone exclusively to science-related blogger gatherings. I’m also very excited that this conference is being hosted at the School of Education at North Carolina Central University in Durham, NC, one of five historically-black colleges or universities (HBCUs) in the University of North Carolina system.
Although I started on Blogspot, many of my blogger buds here got started on WordPress and I write (infrequently) at Science-Based Medicine on a WordPress interface. So I’m currently sitting in a WordPress 101 for Beginners session with Phillip Barron. Phillip writes an aesthetically fabulous and content-rich cycling blog but I hadn’t known until 10 min ago that he is a mega-media dude.

Trained in analytic philosophy, Phillip Barron is a scholar and award-winning digital media artist living in Durham, NC. His works have appeared in the Radical Philosophy Review among other progressive publications and concern issues of justice.
Barron works as a Digital Media Specialist at the National Humanities Center, where he is managing editor of the On the Human project. He is also the sole proprietor of the digital media design company, nicomedia, LLC.
From 2004 to 2008, his newspaper columns “The Outspokin’ Cyclist” appeared monthly in The Herald Sun. A sample of his op-ed contributions to local newspapers can be found here. He has taught courses in philosophy at the Chapel Hill and Greensboro campuses of the University of North Carolina as well as Duke University.

Just as I love meeting new science colleagues at events like ScienceOnline’09, these more broad events get me jazzed by meeting a bunch of amazingly talented and creative people from all areas of communications technology.
I’m going to get back to it now but I wish you were here.