UC-HBCU grants support UCSC faculty collaborations with HBCUs

By Tim Stephens & Allison Arteaga Soergel

Two programs led by UC Santa Cruz faculty have received funding from the UC-HBCU Initiative, which supports collaboration and cooperation with faculty and students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

Phil Crews, a distinguished research professor of chemistry, will lead the UCSC-HBCU Network for Success in the Chemical/Biological Sciences, a program offering summer research experience at UCSC for HBCU undergraduates. In the other program, Anthropology Professor J. Cameron Monroe is teaming up with UC Berkeley Assistant Professor William White, III, to offer a short summer course in African diaspora archaeology for HBCU students, followed by archaeological fieldwork at sites in the Caribbean and West Africa.

Black students have long been underrepresented in graduate and professional programs across the University of California. To help address this disparity, the UC-HBCU Initiative offers mentoring and research experiences to prepare HBCU undergraduates for graduate school and connects students with opportunities for continuing their academic journeys through the UC system.

“These programs are fantastic because they have at their foundation partnerships between HBCUs and UC campuses,” said Chancellor Cynthia Larive. “Building stronger connections between UCSC and HBCUs helps to broaden the pathways by which HBCU students enter top graduate programs, including ours, setting them up for future success, perhaps as faculty themselves in the physical, biological and social sciences.”

Unearthing a passion for archaeology

In this latest round of UC-HBCU grants, a summer archaeology program that has been led by UC Santa Cruz Anthropology Professor J. Cameron Monroe since 2018 received three more years of funding to build upon its prior successes. Five HBCU students per year will begin the program with a visit to the UC Santa Cruz and UC Berkeley campuses for an intensive introductory course focused on the archaeology of slavery and the African diaspora. Then, they’ll apply what they’ve learned during six weeks of field work at archaeological sites in St. Croix and Benin.

Conducting research at both sites will offer an unparalleled opportunity to approach African diaspora archaeology from a transatlantic perspective. Monroe says most archaeologists who work on questions about slavery or African diaspora either focus on West Africa or on plantations in the Caribbean or the Americas, and they come from different disciplinary backgrounds and training, which can result in missed opportunities for sharing knowledge.

“With this program, we’re going to be creating scholars who are truly thinking about these issues from both sides,” Monroe explained. “They will have dug at a rural village site in Africa and at a plantation slave quarter, and they’ll be making important connections about the similarities and differences from the beginning. Hopefully that will transform the way that they approach things.”

Monroe and White will teach the classroom portion of the program, and Monroe will lead the field work in Benin, while research in St. Croix will be led by White, UCLA Assistant Professor Justin Dunnovant, and Stanford University Assistant Professor Ayana Omilade Flewellen.

While many UC campuses offer archaeology programs through their anthropology departments, Monroe says HBCUs traditionally do not have dedicated archaeology programs. However, many HBCU students have strong academic backgrounds and research skills in Africana studies, African diaspora history and culture, or African languages. Monroe hopes these students will consider archaeology as another possible means of studying the African diaspora, and the summer program may even help some to unearth a new passion.

“Students get out in the field at these archaeological sites, and their eyes are opened to a whole new approach to thinking about the past,” Monroe said. “They’re holding an object in their hands, and their minds start spinning with questions about who made it, what it represents, and how it may have helped people to make the best of their lives under oppressive conditions. It’s wonderful to see students fall in love with archaeology, and we’ve been able to bring some brilliant people into this discipline who might not otherwise have ended up there.”

Building community in the sciences

Crews said his new HBCU program will build on the success of the ACCESS program, which he has directed since 1994. ACCESS is an academic bridge program for community college students interested in pursuing a career in the biosciences, offering enrichment activities, a Summer Research Institute, and other opportunities to acquire knowledge and skills that will increase their transfer eligibility and academic success.

The new program will bring a select group of students from HBCUs to UC Santa Cruz for summer research internships. After the students return to their home campuses, they will continue collaborative projects in the physical and biological sciences, working with UCSC and HBCU faculty.

“During the summer, they will live on campus in the same environment as the ACCESS students, so they will be joining this community of scholars that we’ve been building for 28 years,” Crews said. “The idea is to take the successful mechanisms and lessons learned in ACCESS and import them into this HBCU program.”

The “UCSC-HBCU research fellows” will be students who have completed two or three academic years and are interested in pursuing an advanced degree in the chemical or biological sciences. They will be invited to return in subsequent years to continue their research at UCSC, and will receive mentoring and support as they apply to graduate schools.

“We want them to come back to UCSC as graduate students,” Crews said. “The excitement for this grant is huge. We’ve had so few African-American Ph.D. students on Science Hill over the years, and I think this is going to make a difference. This grant will enable us to start fixing what has been a leaky pipeline.”

The program’s leadership team includes UCSC co-principal investigators Theodore Holman, professor of chemistry and biochemistry, and Marilou Sison‑Mangus, associate research professor of ocean sciences, as well as faculty at four HBCUs—Norfolk State University in Virginia, North Carolina Central University, Fisk University in Tennessee, and Hampton University in Virginia. The participating students will have mentors at both UCSC and their HBCUs, and the interactions will continue through the academic year.

Crews said the program will also help the HBCU faculty in terms of their professional development through interactions with UCSC faculty and with each other. “The faculty we work with at the community colleges in the ACCESS program have built lasting relationships—they talk to each other all the time now,” he said. “We will bring at least one of the HBCU faculty here each year to serve as a liaison, and we hope to get funding to have more of them spend time with us at UCSC.”