Newswise — The University of Iowa has been awarded a three-year, $1.2 million grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to establish one of only five University Centers of Exemplary Mentoring (UCEM) in the nation.

The centers are located at universities with proven records of educating underrepresented minority graduate students in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) disciplines. Participating universities are expected to expand, strengthen and institutionalize minority recruitment, mentoring, educational support and professional development.

Philip Kutzko, mathematics professor and the principal investigator on the UCEM grant, says the designation will allow the UI to attract some of the most talented minority doctoral students in the nation.

“We are honored that Sloan has chosen to locate one of their UCEMs here at Iowa, and we are eager to get started on this important project,” Kutzko says. “Our Sloan Center is built on a community of 175 senior UI faculty representing 22 programs and departments and enjoys the strong support of president Mason, provost Butler and Chief Diversity Officer and Associate Vice President Georgina Dodge. These are factors which, we believe, made our proposal competitive.

The UCEM’s director will be Colleen Mitchell, mathematics associate professor and chair of the Department of Mathematics Committee on Diversity and Inclusion.

Planned UCEM activities at the University of Iowa include:•Increased recruitment and outreach efforts.•Expanded mentoring programs for minority scholars.•Development of year-round seminars, workshops, and social events to provide professional development opportunities to minority students.

In addition to the UI, the University of South Florida was awarded an UCEM for 2014. These schools join three others awarded in 2013—Cornell University, Georgia Institute of Technology, and Pennsylvania State University.

“The University of Iowa and the University of South Florida are developing creative, comprehensive, institution-wide programs to support minority students in STEM,” Elizabeth Boylan, program director at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, says in an announcement. “From the classroom, to the lab, to the provost’s office, these institutions are creating environments where minority STEM students can not only succeed, but thrive.”

The UI was selected based on several criteria, including: historical success recruiting and mentoring doctoral students from underrepresented minorities; the quality of its departments and programs constituting the UCEM; the quality, breadth and creativity of planned future activities; and the strength of its institutional commitment to furthering education for underrepresented minorities in the natural and physical sciences, mathematics, and engineering.

In recent years, the UI Department of Mathematics has been recognized for its outstanding minority mentoring activities.

In 2009, President Barack Obama named Kutzko a recipient of a 2009 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM). In 2005, the UI Department of Mathematics earned nationwide recognition when it received a 2004 PAESMEM Award presented at the White House in Washington, D.C.

The PAESMEM awards recognize mentoring of minority students studying mathematics, science or engineering and who belong to minority groups that are underrepresented in those fields. Supported and administered by the National Science Foundation, the award was the only one of its kind presented to an academic department in 2005.

The University Centers of Exemplary Mentoring represent a change in the direction of the Sloan Foundation’s Minority Ph.D. Program. Founded in 1995, the program initially focused on support at the individual mentor or department level, providing scholarships to students in more than 60 graduate programs across the country.

The UI Department of Mathematics was a recipient of Sloan support starting in 2001 and has graduated 25 minority Ph.Ds in the intervening years, all of them supported with Sloan Scholarships. It was the department’s status as a Sloan Legacy Program, which made it possible for the university to apply for a UCEM.

Each UCEM participant will receive administrative support through the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering. Students supported through these programs will also have the opportunity to participate in the Southern Regional Education Board’s Institute on Teaching and Mentoring, the largest professional development conference for minority scholars.

In addition to Kutzko and Mitchell, the UI UCEM principal investigators are: Raul Curto, professor and CLAS executive associate dean and director of diversity; Tonya Peeples, professor and College of Engineering director of ethnic inclusion; and Kathryn Chaloner, professor and head of the College of Public Health Department of Biostatistics. Dodge will serve as UCEM Institutional Champion, and Sherree Wilson, associate dean for cultural affairs and diversity initiatives in the Carver College of Medicine, will represent the Carver College of Medicine on the UCEM Executive Board.