Higher Education > Advanced Advice

Cashing in on Diversity Grants and Scholarships

Underrepresented in engineering and IT? Seek funding targeted to you.

By Chris Enstrom

You are probably aware that women and minorities continue to be underrepresented in engineering and computer science. However, if you are a member of an underrepresented group and plan to pursue a graduate degree in technology, this might actually be good news when it comes to securing grants, scholarships, fellowships and assistantships. In addition to the financial sources open to all students in these areas, there are funding resources targeted specifically to you. But finding and securing these funds can be an intimidating process. Understanding the sources and types of funding can make the process a bit easier.

Funding From Universities

The majority of funding for graduate schools comes from the colleges and universities themselves. Begin your search with the schools that you are interested in attending. If you are applying to MIT's Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, for example, contact them first about sources of funding. If you plan on pursuing a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, check out their Web site for sources of funding, application procedures and deadlines.

Financial resources available through specific departments are usually open to all graduate students, but occasionally there are monies targeted to specific groups. For example, the College of Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has the SURGE Fellowship Program to support underrepresented groups in engineering.

Don't limit your search to specific departments. Universities also have their own grants and fellowships that can be awarded to graduate students in any program. Be sure to visit the financial aid Web site of colleges you are interested in attending for information on such grants, which can be based on need, academic excellence, ethnicity, race or gender.

Most colleges with graduate schools in engineering and computer science also have women in engineering and minority engineering programs. These programs offer academic resources and support for women and minority graduate and undergraduate students, and the programs often administer scholarships and fellowships, as well. But even if they don't administer funds, they are a great resource for information on other sources of aid for those seeking advanced technical degrees.

Outside Sources

Of course, you shouldn't limit your search to the colleges or programs where you plan on applying. A major source of both scholarships and fellowships often overlooked by students is third-party aid. Each year, graduate students receive millions of dollars in aid from professional organizations, businesses, government agencies and local groups.

Begin your search with professional associations in your field of study. Professional associations for specific disciplines like the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers offer graduate scholarships and fellowships to help the next generation of engineering professionals, with many targeted at underrepresented groups.

Don't forget about professional organizations whose entire purpose is to increase the number of women and minorities receiving undergraduate and graduate degrees in science and engineering (sidebar "Graduate Funding Sources for Women and Minorities" for a list of some of these organizations). The Society of Women Engineers, The National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering, and Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science are just of few of the organizations offering graduate funding to underrepresented students.

Another source of funding is corporations and government agencies. Corporations including IBM, Hughes Aircraft Company, AT&T, Microsoft Corporation, and many others offer scholarships and fellowships for women and/or minorities pursing graduate studies in computer science and engineering.

On the federal level, the National Science Foundation is one of the largest contributors to graduate fellowships and research grants in the nation. Other agencies-including the Department of Defense, the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory and NASA, to name a few-offer funding programs for underrepresented groups pursing advanced degrees in science.

Getting Started

So when should you begin the process of seeking financial help for graduate school? "Women and minority candidates should start the process a year before they are ready to attend graduate school," says Dwight Lewis, director of Multicultural Programs at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind. "Most of the major fellowship and grant opportunities have strict deadlines for students applying for their funding, so get your information in on time."

Not only is it important to start early, but you should also be very organized in your search. Scholarship, grant and fellowship applications are often very lengthy and may include multiple parts, such as transcripts, applications essays and letters of recommendation. Competition is fierce and review committees are looking for any excuse to dismiss applicants. Don't give them an easy reason to toss your application in the garbage by submitting a late or incomplete application.

Also, make sure that you seek help. Talk to your professors, network with friends, and contact the graduate and financial aid offices at the schools you are applying to. Do whatever you can to find out as much as possible about potential funding sources.

Finding funding for graduate school can be hard work, but it's effort that pays off in the end. Think of it as your first graduate level research project.

Graduate Funding Sources for Women and Minorities

Need help finding funding sources in computer science and engineering? Here is a list to get your started:

The Women in Engineering Programs and Advocates Network (WEPAN)

Society of Women Engineers (SWE)

The National Consortium for Graduate Degrees for Minorities in Engineering and Science, Inc.

Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science

National Society of Black Engineers

The National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering

The American Indian Graduate Center

The Hispanic Scholarship Fund

The Ford Foundation Diversity Fellowships

Graduate Women in Science

Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers

The Society of Mexican American Engineers and Scientists (MAES), Inc.

American Indian Science and Engineering Society

Chris Enstrom is a career counselor at the Career Resource Center of Brown County in Nashville, Ind., and a former senior editor of Graduating Engineer & Computer Careers.

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Higher Education > Advanced Advice