Duke University is launching a program to increase the number of underrepresented minority Ph.D. graduates in the physical sciences and engineering with a three-year, $1 million grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

The grant, supplemented by funding from Duke’s Office of the Provost and The Graduate School, will support the creation of a Sloan University Center of Exemplary Mentoring (UCEM) at Duke, the ninth such center in the country.


Paula D. McClain

“Our goal is not only to bring more students from underrepresented groups into our Ph.D. programs through the UCEM, but also to make sure that they are put in a position to thrive here and in their future careers,” said Paula D. McClain, dean of The Graduate School and co-principal investigator on the grant. “To do that, we need to provide them with resources that address their needs and a network of people committed to their success.”

Over three years, the UCEM will recruit 30 Sloan Scholars into Duke’s Ph.D. programs in chemistry, computer science, mathematics, physics, statistical science, biomedical engineering, civil and environmental engineering, electrical and computer engineering, and mechanical engineering and materials science.

The Sloan Scholars will receive scholarships to support their academic progress and enrichment. They will also have access to programming and support networks to advance their academics, mentoring, professional development and well-being.


Calvin R. Howell

“Fruitful mentoring relationships are crucial to graduate student success, and students need to have more than just one mentor,” said Calvin Howell, a physics professor and co-principal investigator for the UCEM. “That’s why we have designated faculty champions in every UCEM Ph.D. program and why we have extensive programming designed to help Sloan Scholars forge mentoring relationships with faculty, fellow students and others, not just within their own department, but across the entire Duke community.”


Jacqueline Looney

Jacqueline Looney, who will manage the UCEM’s day-to-day operations, said many aspects of the center’s work will help inform existing efforts at Duke, such as creating a robust culture of mentoring and emphasizing well-being.

“Ultimately, we want to take the knowledge, resources and best practices for student support that we develop through the UCEM and apply them across Duke,” said Looney, The Graduate School’s senior associate dean for graduate programs. “That way, all of our graduate students — not just the Sloan Scholars or just the programs affiliated with the UCEM — will benefit from this work.”


The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation is a philanthropic, not-for-profit grantmaking institution based in New York City. Established in 1934 by Alfred Pritchard Sloan Jr., then-president and chief executive officer of General Motors, the foundation makes grants in support of original research and education in science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM) and economics. This grant was made through the foundation’s STEM Higher Education program area, which aims to increase the quality and diversity of higher education in STEM fields.

The Duke Graduate School provides research-based graduate training that prepares students to thrive and lead in a wide variety of professions. Its 2,500 Ph.D. students and 700 master’s students are enrolled across more than 70 departments, where they work closely with more than 1,300 graduate faculty members in small, collaborative research settings, pushing academic boundaries, offering fresh perspectives in research approaches and giving voice to emerging fields.