Monthly Archives: May 2017

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Dillard University ranks second in the country in black physics undergrads

One of the smallest historically black colleges in the U.S. boasts a huge accomplishment: pound for pound, tiny Dillard University in New Orleans graduates more physics majors — and, notably, more female physics majors — than far bigger schools with more resources.

With an enrollment of 1,200, Dillard ranks second in the country in black physics undergrads.

The point was punctuated at Dillard’s recent commencement exercises, which featured a keynote address from actress and singer Janelle Monae, one of the stars of “Hidden Figures.” The award-winning film tells the story of the black women scientists who fought Jim Crow while doing essential mathematical calculations for America’s space program.

“To see that we have this significant number of women representing (science and math) in the way that they are is a blessing to America and our future,” Monae told The Associated Press in an interview before the May 13 graduation. “To have physicists coming out of New Orleans who are African-American women … that’s a huge deal.”

Nine of the top 10 physics departments in the country — at black or white schools — producing the most African American undergraduates in physics are at HBCUs, according to the American Institute of Physics. Currently, the top producing school is Morehouse College, an all-male HBCU with nearly twice as many students as Dillard.

Dillard, the smallest on the list, ranked comparably with North Carolina A&T University, with more than 10,000 students. The private, liberal arts college has conferred 33 physics degrees since 2007, including nine to black women.

Degrees in physics are rare for women and minorities. That Dillard — with a campus that is 73 percent female — is outpacing its larger counterparts is significant, said University of Pennsylvania higher education professor Marybeth Gasman.

“They’re taking a chance on these young women,” said Gasman, director of Penn’s Center for Minority-Serving Institutions and author of a forthcoming book on HBCUs and STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — education. “They don’t bring in people who they deem to be perfect. They bring people in who they deem to have potential and they work with them to discover this talent.”

Dillard President Walter Kimbrough is one of the biggest champions of the school’s physics program.

“I’d never met a black female getting an undergraduate degree in physics in my life until I got to Dillard,” Kimbrough said. “It broadens the narrative of what black women do.”

Dillard’s powerhouse program is the work of physics professor Abdalla Darwish, who frames his efforts to steer black women into the major as “a movement.”

“I believe in women, especially minority women,” said Darwish, who arrived in 1998 and has built a multi-million dollar laser lab for research. “They are not less than anybody else. Just give them the chance and they will be the best. Give them what they need, and they will do.”

Founded in 1869, Dillard is best known for its nursing program, the oldest in the state. Physics was established as a major at Dillard in 1940.

“You had those areas where we’ve traditionally expected women: teachers and nurses,” Kimbrough said. “Now, we’re going to be known as one of the best in physics. When I go out and talk about Dillard, it’s a ‘wow’ factor for us.”

Trivia Frazier loved math from a young age, but in high school, she gravitated to science out of a curiosity for why things happen.

“When I saw you could put an equation to something to describe it in a quantitative way, that’s what really drew me to this field,” Frazier said.

She was the only person in her graduating high school class to pursue physics in college. She chose Dillard because of its eager, approachable recruiters — including Darwish, who talked to her about post-graduate studies.

She went from being the only black girl in her school interested in physics, to having three “sisters in physics” at Dillard.

“We were able to support each other and understand the quirks about being a physicist and not having the most popular major,” Frazier said. “That was one of the most important components of my foundation.”

As an undergraduate, Frazier wondered what she would do with a physics degree, and considered adding mathematics to her major. Darwish was firm: A black woman in physics was special, he said.

“He told me, ‘It’s time for you to learn about the significance of where you are and who you can be,’” she recalled. “That conversation helped me to stay on track. It opened up my eyes in terms of understanding what was out there.”

Darwish introduced her to other physicists. Frazier graduated with a degree in physics and pre-engineering in 2007 and went on to earn her doctorate in biomedical engineering in 2008 from Tulane University. She works at a bio innovation center in New Orleans as a tissue engineer, and returns to her alma mater frequently to inspire the next generation.

“Now, it’s a part of my mission to let other young women know that this is possible,” she said. “When you’re aware of the opportunity, the future is just … it’s yours.”


Dillard University:


Gerald Herbert contributed to this report from New Orleans. Errin Haines Whack is a member of AP’s race and ethnicity team. Follow her work on Twitter at

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or

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Tuskegee University Fires President Johnson

Dr. Brian L. Johnson

The Board of Trustees has decided not to renew Dr. Brian L. Johnson’s annual contract, effective July 1, 2017. It’s unclear exactly why the trustees decided to let Johnson go, but a source familiar with the situation said that several trustees were angry to learn that Johnson has interviewed for the top post at North Carolina Central University (NCCU), which is located in his hometown of Durham, N.C.

He is reportedly a finalist for the job.

NCCU has been without a permanent leader since its former chancellor, Dr. Debra Saunders-White, died last November from cancer.

A W.E.B. Du Bois scholar and expert in 17th to 19th century American literature, Johnson took the helm as president in 2014 at the age of 40. He previously held teaching and administrative positions at Gordon College, Claflin University and Johnson C. Smith University.

Contacted over the weekend, Johnson declined to be interviewed for this story.

Raised by a single mother in Durham, Johnson earned an undergraduate degree from Johnson C. Smith, a master’s degree in English from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and a Ph.D. In American literature from the University of South Carolina in 2003.

Observers had high hopes for Johnson, who was praised for his visibility on campus, his engagement on social media and helping the university secure philanthropic partnerships with outside foundations.  In an effort to encourage alumni to give to the university, he personally pledged $100,000 over a five year period and was intent on increasing the school’s enrollment from about 3,100 students to 10,000.

Related:  Overcoming segregation in Alabama becomes responsibility of HBCUs – historically Black colleges and universities


But there was some who wondered if the selection of Johnson was a good fit, particularly for an institution that is so focused on STEM.

Despite its name recognition, Tuskegee has struggled with its finances. Among HBCUs, the university’s loan debt is considered high, according to the Capital Financing Program of the U.S. Department of Education.  Tuskegee is ranked number three, having borrowed $132 million between 2002 and 2010.

A source said the trustees have not done enough to address the institution’s long-term debts.

Johnson’s departure means that Tuskegee will join several other HBCUs, including Morehouse College in Atlanta. Ga., that will be looking for permanent leaders.

Dr. Marybeth Gasman, the director of the Center for Minority Serving Institutions and the Judy and Howard Berkowitz Endowed Professor of Education at the University of Pennsylvania, said she is worried about the vacancies.

“I’m concerned about presidents of HBCUs being given the chance to lead,” said Gasman. “However, I’m most concerned about few people wanting to be presidents of HBCUs given the current atmosphere for leadership.”

Jamal Eric Watson can be reached at You can follow him on Twitter @jamalericwatson

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Find out the latest that is going on in Higher Ed!

Trump Budget Would Slash Student Aid and Research

The Trump administration released a 2018 budget proposal Tuesday that delivered on expectations for drastic cuts to student aid programs and university-based research while substantially reshaping federal student loan programs.

Higher education groups as well as many policy analysts said those cuts would make college less affordable and impede the production of new scientists and innovations in health and technology. Cutting deeply into most federal nondefense discretionary spending, the documents call for a 13.6 percent reduction in the Department of Education’s current funding levels and 22 percent for the National Institutes of Health, the largest federal supporter of biomedical research.

The White House estimates that $143 billion would be saved over a decade by allowing the Perkins Loan program to expire and phasing out subsidized federal student loans and Public Service Loan Forgiveness after next year. It promises another $76 billion in savings from streamlining income-based repayment programs for student loans.

The elimination of Public Service Loan Forgiveness as well as changes to the income-based repayment program would hit graduate students particularly hard. And while the administration is touting a new approach that would shorten the time frame to loan forgiveness for undergraduates, aid advocates say that plan comes with higher monthly payments. Many undergrads, meanwhile, would lose support for programs that helped them get to college in the first place, including grant funding and college prep.

Higher ed advocates say the education budget essentially takes billions out of support for students without reinvesting in even the programs backed by Republicans.

“This budget is a recipe for more student debt, more inequality and less affordability,” said Lauren Asher, president of the Institute for College Access and Success.

Language in the “skinny budget” released in March said those massive cuts across government were needed to dramatically increase military and defense spending. Summary documents released ahead of the full budget this week argued that streamlining government would lead to “an economic boom” and raise incomes and job opportunities.

White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said in a briefing with reporters that the budget numbers represented President Trump’s policies put to paper.

“We’re not going to measure compassion by the amount of money that we spend but by the number of people that we help,” Mulvaney said.

But critics and nonpartisan observers said the budget runs up spending on defense while eliminating or underfunding programs that many ordinary people rely on. And they say the administration relies on overly optimistic projections of 3 percent growth to balance the budget.

Among the changes to higher education-related spending called for in the budget (see a table at the bottom of the article):

  • Multiple income-based repayment programs for student loans would be consolidated into one single plan that shortens the schedule for loan forgiveness from 20 years to 15 for undergraduate borrowers. But monthly payments would also jump from 10 percent to 12.5 percent of a borrower’s discretionary income. Graduate students would pay 12.5 percent of their monthly income but with a loan forgiveness schedule of 30 years.
  • The $700 million Perkins Loan program, which is due for an extension by Congress, would be allowed to expire (Congress, however, hasn’t put new money in the programfor years). The administration would also end Public Service Loan Forgiveness and subsidized Stafford Loans after July 2018, meaning current borrowers would be grandfathered in to those programs. The PSLF program forgives the remaining debt of a borrower working for qualifying government or nonprofit employers after 120 payments, while the subsidized loan program allows students to save thousands in accrued interest as undergrads. Grandfathered borrowers could potentially lose eligibility, however, based on a change in enrollment under the proposal.
  • The White House endorsed reinstating year-round Pell Grants — a policy change already enacted by Congress this month in a funding deal for the current 2017 fiscal year — but otherwise doesn’t strengthen the program. The maximum size of the grant would remain unchanged and wouldn’t be indexed to inflation. The administration would also take nearly $4 billion from the Pell surplus.
  • The budget eliminates the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant program, a $733 million program whose recipients are typically Pell-eligible college students. It also cuts the Federal Work-Study program by nearly half, to $500 million.
  • As outlined in the March “skinny budget,” the administration would cut college access programs TRIO and GEAR UP by 10 percent and 30 percent, respectively. The budget documents specifically call for eliminating the McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program and Educational Opportunity Centers.
  • The proposed budget includes large cuts to science agencies: 11 percent for the National Science Foundation, 22 percent for the National Institutes of Health, and 17 percent for the Department of Energy Office of Science. The administration has promised that savings could be found without eliminating grant awards by cuttingoverhead payments, which reimburse institutions for the indirect costs related to campus-based research.
  • The budget plan would eliminate the AmeriCorps national service program, and slash funds for the National Endowment for the Humanities and State Department international exchange programs.

There’s almost no chance that Congress passes a budget in a form even resembling what the White House has proposed. Congressional appropriators must pass their own budget resolution, and even some key Republicans reacted with shock to cuts unveiled in the skinny budget in March — especially those targeting research agencies like the National Institutes of Health. Patty Murray, the top Democrat on the Senate education committee, said the budget would be “devastating for students trying to climb the ladder of opportunity and join the middle class” and promised she would keep fighting for “high-quality, affordable education.”

The proposal is basically a messaging document, and in higher ed some policy preferences did emerge. Jason Delisle, a higher ed policy analyst and resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said two clear themes of the budget proposal were simplification of financial aid and cuts to support for graduate students. But he said he was surprised to see the budget left funding untouched for both Graduate PLUS and Parent PLUS loans. Conservatives, including Delisle, have argued for eliminating the PLUS program.

There’s no hiding the fact that the budget is on net a reduction in support for student aid, Delisle said.

“That shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone,” he said. “That has been the top-line goal of the administration, to reduce the size of the federal budget.”

Most of the key provisions of the proposal had been revealed ahead of time — either in the skinny budget or in leaks reported last week by The Washington Post. But the documents released Tuesday showed exactly how much the administration expects to find in savings from cuts to specific programs. By eliminating Public Service Loan Forgiveness, for example, the White House expects to save nearly $3 billion annually. That figure was much higher than previous cost estimates for the program.

Clare McCann, a senior policy analyst with New America’s education policy program, said it’s not surprising that the White House found savings in the programs it did — both Republicans and Democrats have supported modifying or eliminating the loan-forgiveness program or subsidized student loans in the past.

“The problem is they don’t have any vision to reinvest that money in ways to make higher education more accessible,” she said of the Trump administration. “So at the end of the day all they’ve done is make college less affordable.”

McCann said legislative language in the documents removing a ban on randomized control trials for TRIO programs was a positive step, if one that would make the White House few friends among TRIO supporters. But Mulvaney, in arguing that the administration sought to make budget decisions based on program effectiveness, referenced a dated statistic. An evaluation of the McNair program, he claimed, showed that only 6 percent of scholars went on to earn doctoral degrees. But that evaluation is 10 years old and researchers have raised other questions about whether that figure adequately represents the success of the program.

Former Education Secretary John B. King Jr. said the Obama administration sought to add incentives for TRIO programs based on evidence of success.

“If there’s an argument for investing more in evidence-based practices, I would certainly support that,” King said. “It sounds like his argument is a smoke screen.”

Although the Trump budget might be dead on arrival in Congress, King said it moves the discussion on education in the wrong direction.

“Even if Congress — as they should — rejects this budget entirely, we will have spent several months talking about cuts when we should be talking about increasing investment,” he said.

The White House has pushed job-training programs that don’t result in a four-year degree. But the proposed budget includes a $2.5 billion, or 21 percent, decrease in funding for the U.S. Department of Labor, as well as cuts to job-training programs housed at the Education Department. The budget document called for shifting some of the funding responsibility for job training to states and employers, while also cutting “ineffective, duplicative and peripheral job-training grants.”

For example, it seeks a roughly 40 percent cut to the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), which has a $3.4 billion annual budget. And while the administration is calling for another $90 million in funding for apprenticeships, building on a similar allocation for this year, it would cut career and technical education grants for states by $168 million.

“While the Trump administration talks about supporting work force and skills development, this dramatic cut is nothing short of an attack on CTE and the students and employers who benefit from it,” Advance CTE and the Association for Career and Technical Education said in a written statement.

Representatives of leading research and science-oriented groups also attacked the budget for the devastating effects they said it would have on the country’s research and science enterprise.

In the 2017 omnibus funding deal reached this month, Congress provided a funding boost for the National Institutes of Health by $2 billion for the second year in a row. Science advocates called for Congress to break with the White House again to support research on a bipartisan basis.

“For decades, the United States has maintained its position as global innovation leader,” said Peter McPherson, president of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities. “But this budget proposal would be a retreat from that role and cede the development of new technological breakthroughs to other countries.”

And McPherson strongly rejected that the government could cut overhead payments to universities without compromising the work of lifesaving research into illnesses and disease.

“You cannot conduct cancer research in a parking lot!” he said.

The Trump Administration’s Budget and Programs Important to Colleges

  2016 Appropriation (millions) 2017 Appropriation (millions) 2018 Proposed % Change, 2017 to 2018
Financial Aid Programs        
Maximum Pell Grant (not in millions) $5,815 $5,920 $5,920 0.0%
Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants 733.1 733.7 0.0 -100.0%
Federal Work-Study 989.7 989.8 500.0 -49.5%
Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants 384.0 442.0 499.0 12.9%
Institutional Aid        
Strengthening Institutions 86.4 86.5 0.0 -100.0%
Strengthening Tribal Colleges 27.6 27.5 27.5 0.0%
Strengthening Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian-serving Institutions 13.8 13.8 13.8 0.0%
Strengthening Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) 244.7 244.2 244.2 0.0%
Strengthening Historically Black Graduate Institutions 63.3 63.2 63.2 0.0%
Strengthening Predominantly Black Institutions 9.9 9.9 9.9 0.0%
Strengthening Asian-American and Native American/Pacific Islander-Serving Institutions 3.3 3.3 3.3 0.0%
Strengthening Native American-Serving Nontribal Institutions 3.3 3.3 3.3 0.0%
Minority Science and Engineering Improvement 9.6 9.6 9.6 0.0%
Aid for Hispanic-Serving Institutions 107.8 107.6 107.6 0.0%
Promoting Postbaccalaureate Opportunities for Hispanic Americans 9.7 9.6 9.6 0.0%
Tribally Controlled Postsecondary Career and Technical Institutions 8.3 8.3 8.3 0.0%
National Technical Institute for the Deaf 70.0 69.9 69.9 0.0%
Gallaudet University 121.3 120.3 120.3 0.0%
Howard U 221.8 221.8 221.8 0.0%
Student Assistance        
TRIO Programs 900.0 898.3 808.3 -10.0%
GEAR UP 322.8 322.1 219.0 -32.0%
Special Programs for Migrant Students 44.6 44.5 44.5 0.0%
Child Care Access 15.1 15.1 0.0 -100.0%
Program for Students With Intellectual Disabilities 11.8 11.8 11.8 0.0%
HBCU Capital Financing 20.5 20.4 20.4 0.0%
Career-Technical/Adult Education        
Perkins State Grants 1,117.6 1,115.5 949.5 -14.9%
Adult Education 582.0 580.8 485.8 -16.4%
Graduate Education        
Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need 29.3 29.2 5.8 -80.1%
Other Areas        
International Education and Foreign Language Studies 72.1 72.0 0.0 -100.0%
Teacher Quality Partnerships 40.6 43.1 0.0 -100.0%
Office for Civil Rights 107.0 106.8 106.8 0.0%
Inspector General 59.3 59.1 61.1 3.4%
Institute of Education Sciences        
Research, Development and Dissemination 195.0 194.6 194.6 0.0%
Statistics 112.0 111.8 111.8 0.0%
Statewide Data Systems 34.5 34.5 34.5 0.0%
Adult Employment and Training 814.2 815.4 490.4 -39.9%
Dislocated Workers Training 1,239.7 1,241.3 732.5 -41.0%
Apprenticeship Grants 90.0 89.8 89.8 0.0%
Educational and Cultural Exchanges 599.2 589.8 285.0 -51.7%
National Endowment for the Humanities 147.9 149.8 42.3 -71.8%
Institute for Museum and Library Sciences 230.0 231.0 23.0 -90.0%
AmeriCorps 386.0 386.0 2.3 -99.4%
Department of Defense Basic Research 2,166.0 2,077.0 2,240.0 7.8%
National Institutes of Health 31,381.0 31,674.0 25,833.0 -18.4%
Health Professions Training 808.0 803.0 401.0 -50.1%
National Aeronautics and Space Administration Science 5,600.0 5,765.0 5,712.0 -0.9%
Department of Energy Science 5,347.0 5,337.0 4,473.0 -16.2%
National Science Foundation 7,494.0 7,472.0 6,653.0 -11.0%
–Research 5,998.0 6,034.0 5,362.0 -11.1%
Education 884.0 880.0 761.0 -13.5%
Facilities 242.0 209.0 183.0 -12.4%
Commerce Department National Institute of Standards and Technology 690.0 688.0 600.0 -12.8%
Agriculture Department Research 1,095.0 1,093.0 951.0 -13.0%

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Loan Servicing Change Could Rock HBCUs May 21, 2017

WASHINGTON — Colleges and universities with a high percentage of students who fund their educations with college loans may face tougher challenges in the years ahead based on proposed changes in the federal regulations that govern student loan servicing, says a widely respected higher education veteran.

Dr. H. Patrick Swygert

“There’s a concentration of power that may not work,” as envisioned, says Dr. H. Patrick Swygert, citing the newest chapter in the Trump Administration leadership of federal education programs.

Swygert raised his concerns about the planned loan servicing changes during an unusually frank forum this past weekend convened by Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity, the nation’s oldest Greek Letter organization of African American men. “The Grand Boule Forum on HBCUs” was the first of its kind held by the organization and reflected the rising level of concern among Black leaders about the fate of historically Black colleges and universities.

Any wrong turn, albeit well intentioned, could further jeopardize the fragile state of HBCUs, Swygert warned the crowd of several hundred, as 85 to 90 percent of HBCU students graduate with loans, he added.

“It’s not an academic matter,” he says. Currently, nine vendors service the $1.2 trillion in outstanding loans, with power to grant waivers to loan repayment terms and schedules, he says.

Using the DeVos announcement as an example of seemingly harmless actions, Swygert told the forum audience HBCUs need to be led by people who “understand the difference between chess and checkers. This is chess,” he added in a brief interview after the forum.

Related:  Desperately Seeking Students


Swygert, a higher education administrator for nearly three decades, including 13 years as president of Howard University (1995-2008), says he fears the “amended” federal student loan solicitation rules could harm students more than help, despite assertions to the contrary by Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos in issuing the “amended” student loan servicing procedures last Friday.

DeVos says the new process “maintains superior customer service and borrower protections while increasing oversight and protecting taxpayers.”

The new loan servicing program vendor rules, set to go into effect in 2019, would put one loan servicing vendor in charge of the $1.2 trillion dollar federal student loan repayment portfolio, eliminating the present network of nine vendors among whom the work is divided.

One of the nine vendors is ACS Education Services, the company that was the sole vendor before the Obama Administration began to divide the work among several vendors. The shift was in response to complaints that ACS was unresponsive and inflexible in dealing with borrowers on terms of loan repayment.

For sure the loan servicing program during the Obama years with nine different servicer vendors drew its share of complaints about different responses from different vendors at different times when borrowers sough guidance and/or flexibility in working out transactions to avoid loan default and developing new loan repayment plans.

Still, totally reversing gears and returning to one vendor raises questions about whether that would be any better, says Swygert.

“Do you want to concentrate all of this authority in one place,” asked Swygert? “Will the federal government have enough leverage over one servicer?”

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NCCU Awards Its First Doctorates In Biosciences To Three African-American Women

Category : Uncategorized


NCCU Awards Its First Doctorates In Biosciences To Three African-American Women | HBCU Buzz

North Carolina Central University (NCCU) achieved an important milestone by awarding its first Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degrees in more than a half-century during the 129th Graduate and Professional Commencement Exercises on Friday, May 12, 2017.

The three new Ph.D. graduates – Elena Arthur, originally from Ghana; Rasheena Edmondson, from Wilson County, N.C.; and Helen Oladapo, from Nigeria – were part of the first cohort of students to enter the doctoral program after it opened in 2012.

“The three young ladies who have earned the Ph.D. degree in Integrated Biosciences are the epitome of strength, tenacity and Eagle Excellence,” said NCCU Interim Chancellor, Johnson O. Akinleye, Ph.D.

The doctorate offers two tracks – Integrated Biosciences and Pharmaceutical Sciences – and focuses on the investigation of diseases that disproportionately affect people of color. A U.S. Department of Education report notes that both African-Americans and women are vastly underrepresented among Ph.D.s in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

As part of her research into alternative treatments for diabetes alongside NCCU professor Jiaua Xie, Ph.D., Arthur investigated how proteins could be used to protect pancreatic beta cells, which are diminished in patients with diabetes. She plans to enter into a postdoctoral program following graduation.

Edmondson and Oladapo both conducted cancer research. Edmondson, who is heading for the pharmaceuticals field after graduation, has worked with NCCU professor Liju Yang, Ph.D., to study particular types of cellular activities. Oladapo worked closely with NCCU professor Kevin Williams, Ph.D., in testing substances for potential new cancer fighting drugs. She plans to begin work in drug development while also serving as a patient advocate in clinical trials that include diverse populations.

These are the first doctoral degrees awarded at NCCU since a short-lived Ed.D. program ended in 1964.

A video highlighting the Ph.D. graduates is available here.

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Virginia State University is looking to hire a new Director for the Office of Sponsored Research and Programs. Applications close

Virginia State University is looking to hire a new Director for the Office of Sponsored Research and Programs. Applications close 05/26:

M. Omar Faison, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Biology
Assistant Vice President, Research

Associate Dean, College of Graduate Studies
Virginia State University
Petersburg, VA 23806
(804) 631-3330


At VSU, we are proudly committed to providing a transformative experience for our students, strategically investing in our academic programs, embracing our position as a top Land Grant University, embracing our role as Virginia’s Opportunity University, and partnering together as a University to tell our story.
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