The Opportunities for UnderRepresented Scholars (OURS) program is designed to increase the gender diversity in the academic ranks at Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCUs) through the acquisition of leadership skills that will render women more competitive for senior positions within these institutions.
According to 2009 statistics, HBCUs, which represent only 3% of U.S. colleges and universities, graduate approximately 25% of African Americans that acquire undergraduate degrees. In many of the STEM disciplines, these same institutions graduate an even higher percentage (e.g. physics where the percentage is closer to 40%).
African American women form a significant portion of the HBCU population, with representation on the order of 70%. In addition, HBCUs have a disproportionately concentrated presence of African American women faculty and have had a 157 percent increase in the number of African American women faculty in STEM from 1993 [n=350] to 2006 [n=900] (Mack, Rankins, & Winston, 2011). This significant increase in recent years would suggest that HBCUs now have an unprecedented opportunity to transform their institutions.
By supporting women, especially women of color, in the STEM disciplines in realizing their leadership potential, OURS is expected to help ensure that students and faculty in the STEM disciplines will benefit from the skills, wisdom, breadth of experience and unique perspectives that women academic leaders will provide.
Using an action learning model, the program creatively integrates the professional education of women in STEM at HBCUs with authentic leadership experiences to help participants respond effectively to the pedagogical issues and academic leadership challenges of the 21st century. OURS is designed to equip women in the STEM disciplines at HBCUs with extensive knowledge of the psychology of leadership, to provide them with mentored opportunities to assume leadership roles, and to prepare them to overcome institutional barriers to advancement that women typically face in advancing to leadership positions.