University of Rochester

Kearns Center Forges New Path for Minorities into Science, Engineering

October 11, 2002

The chronic and systemic underrepresentation of people of color in the sciences and engineering is acknowledged as a failing of American education and business. To set a new course, the University of Rochester will create a framework of programs and support to recruit and retain underrepresented minorities on their way to achieving master's and doctoral degrees in those fields.

The David T. Kearns Center for Leadership and Diversity in Science and Engineering takes its inspiration from the University alumnus and trustee, innovator as Xerox CEO and deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, and visionary championing the importance of diversity in the workplace. Nearly $1.5 million has been raised for the center, which is being launched this fall.

Unveiling this initiative coincides with Kearns' 50th class reunion and a series of panel discussions and a keynote address on diversity in higher education, which will be held Saturday, Oct. 12, during Meliora Weekend at the University. (See list below.)

"There is a critical need in this country to educate and train scientists and engineers of color," said University Trustee Francis L. Price '74, '75 (MBA). "That is why the concept of the Kearns Center has been so personally important to me."

Price, a successful African-American businessman who is CEO of Q3 Industries based in Columbus, Ohio, and Anaheim, Calif., has been a driving force behind the establishment of the Kearns Center. He and University President Thomas H. Jackson have, over the past two years, organized an honorary committee of noted business, education, and government leaders from around the country who all know and admire Kearns.

Those members include Lamar Alexander, former U.S. Secretary of Education, governor of Tennessee, and president of the University of Tennessee; Paul Allaire, former chairman of Xerox Corporation; Earl Graves, founder and publisher of Black Enterprise magazine; Vernon E. Jordan, Jr., senior managing director, Lazard Freres, Inc., and former president of the National Urban League; A. Barry Rand, a former executive vice president of Xerox Corporation; and John Walton, chairman of Quantum Partners.

"David Kearns is one of our most distinguished alumni and devoted advocates," said President Jackson. "His passion for promoting diversity in the workplace and advancing equal access to education for all has been a consistent theme in a long and distinguished career. We are very pleased to pay tribute to his many contributions to American society and education through the creation of this new center."

The Kearns Center will be overseen at the University by William Scott Green, dean of the College, and Kevin Parker, dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. "Full representation and full participation by a new generation of minority leaders in engineering and science is integral to the success of American education and to the research enterprise," said Green. "We are delighted to have this new program launched at Rochester given our outstanding educational programs in science and engineering as well as our track record in mentoring students to advanced degrees in these areas."

As its mission, the center seeks to radically increase the numbers of underrepresented minority students who earn master's and doctoral degrees in science and engineering at Rochester. Eventually, the center will house programs in support of underrepresented minority students from high school through the doctoral degree, and thus initiate a cultural transformation in higher education on a national scale.

Last year, for example, the College received a $270,000 grant from the National Science Foundation for scholarship aid to select freshmen and sophomores with plans to major in computer science, mathematics, or an engineering field. In those areas, the attrition rate can be high for women and minorities.

"We seek to create unique learning communities for students in each targeted discipline and then supplement that environment with enrichment and group-building activities," explained Green. The keystone aspect of the center will be the Kearns Fellows Program, through which 10 students from their first year in college through the master's degree will be involved in an expansive network of academic, research, and other programs.

The College, home of the University's programs in arts, sciences, and engineering, has shown through the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program and other initiatives that intensive support services keep students in their majors until graduation and help them earn higher grades. The Kearns Center will be directed administratively by Beth Olivares, who leads the McNair Program. Since 1993, 72 percent of McNair alumni at Rochester have gone on to graduate work at institutions across the country.

The naming and creation of the center honors one of the University's most distinguished alumni. A 1952 graduate, Kearns earned extraordinary success as the leader at Xerox Corp. in the 1980s and showed how American business could reinvent itself and compete successfully in a global economy. In the 1970s, when he was still head of U.S. marketing for Xerox, Kearns supported the development of a network of black executives. As CEO of Xerox from 1982 to 1990, he continued to support this initiative while actively championing the importance of diversity throughout the workplace.

Over his long career, he also has promoted the need for reforming America's schools and has worked closely with business leaders in this area. Since his retirement from Xerox in 1990, Kearns has continued a vigorous agenda through corporate and foundation involvement to restore American public education to world preeminence.

A native of Rochester, Kearns is an author and has been chair or a member of many boards and organizations with an international reach and educational mission. A member of the University of Rochester Board of Trustees for almost three decades, including five years as chairman, Kearns also co-chaired Rochester's Campaign for the '90s. He has served as a member of visiting committees for the Simon School, the School of Nursing, and the Medical Center. His dedication to Rochester has been recognized with the Hutchison Medal, the University's highest alumni award. * * *

The announcement of the new Kearns Center will take place on Saturday, Oct. 12, at 1:30 p.m. in Hoyt Hall at the University of Rochester. After a short ceremony, Earl Graves, Sr., publisher of Black Enterprise Magazine, will give a keynote address on "Leadership in the Black Community." From 3:15 to 4:45 p.m., also in Hoyt Hall, a panel of scientists and education leaders will discuss "Building Leadership Across Boundaries: A Critical Dialogue About Race and Higher Education."

Featured members of the panel are Walter Cooper '57 (PhD), a former New York State Regent; Bernard R. Gifford '72M (PhD), professor of education at the University of California, Berkeley; Bernard Harleston '55 (PhD), former president of City University of New York; and Diana Garcia-Pritchard '88 (PhD), research scientist. William Scott Green, dean of the College, will moderate the panel. A reception for invited students, alumni, and parents as well as participants in the Kearns Center events will follow.