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Funding, mentorships support underrepresented groups
earning advanced degrees

GradsFormer McNair scholar Michael Endres, now a doctoral student in the clinical psychology program, knows graduate students don’t always receive pats on the back for their hard work. Last summer, however, he received one in the form of a fellowship from the Ken Heller Minority Student Support Fund.

Fellowships from this fund are awarded to American citizens from groups that are underrepresented in science and in graduate study in psychology. As a summer 2009 fellow, Endres helped faculty members Jack Bates and Brian D’Onofrio mentor undergraduates from underrepresented groups. They conducted a seminar exposing students to research and professional issues in psychology.

The undergraduates came from colleges around the country as well as IU Bloomington and IU Northwest and were supported by the McNair Program and the AGEP program through the National Science Foundation. Endres also acted as a graduate student mentor for one of these students, which he said was a great opportunity to give back to the program.

“It’s important to let minority students know they can go on and get a Ph.D.,” he said. “It’s important to include students from different cultures in research.”

Programs like the Heller Fund have the potential to help recruit and retain students from diverse groups into psychology research. A commitment to diversity in preparing the next generation of practicing and research psychologists also is supported by research. Studies at the University of Michigan by Professor Scott Page in 2007 look at how teams solve difficult problems, and show that more diverse teams frequently solve problems more effectively than the teams made up of the "best performers." In fact, Page has developed mathematical proofs for well-specified conditions under which teams specifically created to be diverse are guaranteed in the longrun to outperform teams not selected with an eye toward assuring diversity.

In related work, Chancellor's Professor Robert Goldstone has studied the behavior of groups of networked people searching a problem space. Consistent with Page's mathematical proof on the benefits of diversity, Goldstone has found empirical evidence that creating social networks in a way that preserves diversity allows groups to solve difficult problems more effectively than more homogenous groups.

Ken Heller, emeritus faculty member and originator of the minority fund, agrees that including individuals with different backgrounds is important to the study and advancement of psychology. Heller has been active in mentoring students from diverse backgrounds since he came to IU in 1962.

“(These students) bring a unique cultural perspective to psychology,” he said. “They often investigate problems in the field that others might not be aware of.”

According to Heller, support for this initiative in the department has grown over the years. The fund has helped the department to recruit high quality students who fit well in the program.

Beyond the support fund, another project by the department’s Minority Concerns Committee brings students together for lunch twice a semester for group discussions. The group, led by Assistant Professor Sharlene Newman, has discussed such issues as surviving graduate school, qualification exams and the racial climate of Bloomington and IU at past meetings.

“This is a terrific group where people feel like someone is looking after them on the faculty,” Heller said. “People don’t always realize what an adjustment it is for some students to come here.”

Newman’s goal as head of the Minority Concerns Committee is to give these students a place to develop a community and ask whatever questions they may have.

“One of the biggest issues related to minority retention is a feeling of isolation,” she said.

The department is accepting donations to the Heller Minority Student Support Fund. To give, click here. In the “Additional Comments” section, please include “Heller Minority Student Support Fund.” Visit for more information.

Click here to find out more about Scott Page and his publications.

Citation for Goldstone's publication:

    Mason, W. A., Jones, A., & Goldstone, R. L. (2008). "Propagation of
    innovations in networked groups." Journal of Experimental Psychology:
    , 137, 422-433.