After about an hour on the bus and light-rail train and then a five-minute walk, Maria Cedillo would finally arrive at school.
Her Southwest Baltimore neighborhood in Carrollton Ridge was an hour away from the Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, one of the top public high schools in the city. But her mom, who never went to high school, encouraged her to apply and attend. About 66 percent of Cedillo’s neighborhood is nonwhite and 52.7 percent of family households have a single female caretaker, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.
“To me it was like, if I have this opportunity, I can’t give it up,” said Cedillo, a sophomore physiology and neurobiology major. “It was worth it.”
Cedillo is one of 210 students who have gone through the University of Maryland Incentive Awards Program. The program works with high schools in Baltimore City and Prince George’s County to accept students who otherwise would not be able to attend the university, said Jacqueline Lee, the program’s director.
Officials, faculty, staff and students have noted “pipeline” issues when speaking about diversity issues on the campus. Whether it’s the decline of black representation across the campus or the lack of women in STEM fields, many of those on the campus have pointed to cracks in K-12 education rather than at the university level.
But as a public institution, it’s the university’s responsibility to recognize and address these problems, said Kumea Shorter-Gooden, the university’s chief diversity officer.
This fall, 384 undergraduates and 264 graduates who enrolled at the university were from Baltimore City, where 63 percent of residents are black and about 5 percent are Hispanic or Latino. There were 7,920 undergraduates and 1,424 graduate students from Montgomery County, where about 19 percent of people are black and about 19 percent are Hispanic or Latino.
The awards program aims to “really strike the pipeline of students coming from the schools in these two regions, coming to the University of Maryland,” Lee said. “Because of where we’re pulling from, the two regions we’re working with … we’re going to add to the racial, cultural and socioeconomic diversity of the campus as well.”
The Provost Office’s fiscal year 2016 budget allocates $231,666 to the Office of Diversity & Inclusion. Annually, the office “allocates more than $4 million to support diversity programs, including the recruitment of underrepresented faculty,” Cynthia Hale, associate vice president for academic affairs, wrote in an email.
“Our mission has sort of embedded in it from the beginning, a commitment to serving the public and to serving residents in the state of Maryland in particular,” Shorter-Gooden said. “To be a place where students throughout this state and, of course, beyond — but particularly students throughout Maryland — from diverse backgrounds, from underrepresented groups, have an equal opportunity to attend and to excel.”
When considering college, David Egbufoama was fairly certain he would get in somewhere, but he didn’t know how he was going to pay for it.
His acceptance into the Incentive Awards Program allowed him to matriculate at this university.
“It started to hit me that with my situation, it hit me that I might not even have the funds to do it,” Egbufoama said. “And that’s when I started really getting scared about school.”
The Academic Achievement Programs also recruits underrepresented and low-income students and provides them with on-campus resources, including workshops and counseling. The program annually recruits about 125 students to the freshman class. Of the admitted students, about 50 percent are black, 24 percent are Hispanic, 11 percent are Asian and 11 percent are white, according to the university’s 2015 Cultural Diversity Report.
The achievement program’s six-year graduation rate is 73.7 percent for the class entering in 2008, according to the report. The campus’s six-year graduation rate is 84.7 percent.
Jerry Lewis, the program’s executive director, said he would like to have the resources to recruit up to 175 students each year. But many of the students recruited through this program have lower standardized test scores and grades, which Lewis said could hurt the university’s academic ranking.
“I don’t think the university recognizes the program actually adds to the university’s total purpose and its mission in terms of providing access and opportunity for a state institute,” Lewis said. “The ranking as a point of the university’s interest, in my opinion, exceeds the kind of efforts that we are making in order to make a difference with the number of students that we have.”
Shorter-Gooden said she has confidence in these programs and pointed to the narrowing graduation gap: The six-year graduation rate gap for Hispanics fell from 9.9 percent (entering class of 2005) to 4.7 percent (entering class of 2008), while the graduation gap for black students fell from 8.5 percent to 7.2 percent. For “low-resource” students, it fell from 5.8 percent to 3.6 percent, according to the diversity report.
“There’s still a gap for all three categories, but it’s headed in the right direction,” Shorter-Gooden said. “My sense is that the programs we have in place … are having an impact.”
Engineering college Dean Darryll Pines and computer, mathematics and natural sciences college Dean Jayanth Banavar said a lack of women in STEM fields is a cultural problem that starts as early as elementary school.
Female students represented 22.1 percent of the engineering college and 35.9 percent of the computer, mathematics and natural sciences college in 2014, according to data from the Office of Institutional Research, Planning and Assessment.
“When you start off with a fraction of the pool, you’re already behind,” Pines said. “We all play a certain role, so the university should increase its outreach in STEM activities with respect to elementary, middle and high schools.”
The engineering school budgeted about $2.3 million for diversity programs in fiscal year 2016. This includes $465,000 for the Center for Minorities in Science and Engineering and the Women in Engineering Program and $909,000 for the engineering school’s faculty and staff initiatives, Pamela Morse, the engineering school’s assistant dean for communications, wrote in an email.
More than 1,400 students were involved with programs run through the Center for Minorities in Science and Engineering, and more than 1,800 students were involved with the Women in Engineering Program in fiscal year 2015, Morse wrote.
“There’s probably, on some level, only a certain amount we can do,” Pines said. “The larger challenge to society is how the engagement at the K-12 environment happens.”
Getting underrepresented minorities to matriculate at the university is the first step. The second: creating an accepting and inclusive campus environment.
“It’s not about simply helping people get in the door,” Shorter-Gooden said. “It’s not just access; it’s success.”
The Office of Diversity & Inclusion gets requests “all the time” to do diversity and inclusion training for departments or staff units, Shorter-Gooden said.
However, given more funds for additional staff, Shorter-Gooden said the office would like to develop a systematic training on cultural competency for faculty and staff.
“The whole issue of educating faculty and educating staff, as well as educating students both in and outside the classroom, I think there’s a lot more we can do,” Shorter-Gooden said. “We do things here and there. We do things by request, but it’s not reaching everyone around the institution.”
There are clubs for women studying business, engineering and mathematics, the Common Ground Dialogue Program to promote discussions on sensitive topics, the LGBT Equity Center and other student support services and centers.
Shorter-Gooden’s office also tries to raise awareness of diversity issues with events such as this month’s third annual Rise Above “-isms” week.
For many minority students, academic programs and other services on the campus can help them find a community.
“Being in [the Incentive Awards Program], there’s so many diverse students we have,” Egbufoama said. “The fact that they come from these different backgrounds and areas, but they’re such high-achieving students, it inspires me and all of us that we can really be successful in the things we set our minds to.”
Laurie Frederik, the Latin American Studies Center director, said diversity is not as straightforward as the race and ethnicity checkboxes seen on so many forms.
“For a lot of those students, it’s about finding themselves, finding their own routes and their own origins and understanding the cultures from which their families come from,” Frederik said. “We have a really narrow idea of racial categories in the United States and it’s very visual.”
Based on events going on around the world, certain populations are prioritized among diversity initiatives more so than other groups, Frederik said.
“In terms of Latin American studies, we are dealing with people who have different kinds of racial identities, who are not necessarily seen as diverse by their peers or their institution, and therefore, not seen as needing funding,” Frederik said. “Our program has definitely been cut in the last couple of years.”
Last month, the university announced two new leadership positions in the African-American studies department and the creation of the Judge Alexander Williams Jr. Center for Education, Justice and Ethics. The African-American studies fiscal year 2016 state budget is $929,269, and last academic year the department provided 1,625 seats for its courses, Oscar Barbarin, the department chairman, wrote in an email.
Dr. Oscar Barbarin, the new chair of African-American studies at the University of Maryland, speaks at an event held Sept. 28, 2015, to welcome him to the position. (Tom Hausman/The Diamondback)
Barbarin said he wants the department “to really have an impact on one of the most significant issues facing the local areas and the state and perhaps the nation.”
In an effort to increase student awareness, the general education program, adopted for the fall 2012 freshman class, requires students to complete a diversity requirement. This includes six credits of Understanding Plural Societies courses or one Understanding Plural Societies course and one Cultural Competence course.
More than 100 courses offered this fall count toward this requirement.
Ruth Zambrana, director of this university’s Consortium on Race, Gender and Ethnicity, has taught a senior seminar and said the students “don’t know anything about African-Americans.”
“What does that tell us about the university? [Students] can take whatever they want,” Zambrana said. “That was not a solution to a problem.”
Instead, Zambrana said all freshmen should be required to take a course on inequality and race in the country. At the same time, faculty should strive to become knowledgeable of race, ethnicity and class issues in their areas, Zambrana said.
“Professors need to be informed that many of the underrepresented students have gone through our public school system, which is not the best, in neighborhoods that are highly segregated for these kids, including Prince George’s County,” Zambrana said.
For Cedillo, who works with elementary- and middle-school students on the Baltimore Urban Debate League and encourages them to go to college, going back to Baltimore City can be a “reality check.”
“Because I’ve been raised here and I feel like I was always involved in the culture of Baltimore City, I feel like I can never remove myself from that,” Cedillo said. “It’s important to never forget where you came from. Because I came from that, it’s important for me to help out other people.”