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Carnegie Mellon, Rales Foundation Announce Groundbreaking Initiative To Broaden Access to STEM Education

$150M investment aims to eliminate cost as barrier to graduate education, create distinctive ecosystem to ensure success

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Peter Kerwin
University Communications & Marketing

Carnegie Mellon University and the Norman and Ruth Rales Foundation today announced a transformative new initiative to help address the Missing Millions — individuals whose personal circumstances have presented a significant obstacle to careers in the science, technology, engineering and math fields (STEM). Engaging and creating opportunities for these individuals to join the STEM professions is a priority for the nation's economic prosperity, security and global competitiveness.

The CMU Rales Fellows Program(opens in new window) will increase access to STEM graduate education and help cultivate a new generation of domestic national STEM leaders. At its core, the program will eliminate cost as a barrier to select master's degree and Ph.D. programs for students from under-resourced and underrepresented backgrounds, including first-generation students, by providing full tuition and a stipend; it also will support students through a distinctive, holistic ecosystem of developmental and networking opportunities that will benefit Fellows both during their time at CMU and as they advance in their careers.

The Rales Foundation gift will provide an endowment of $110 million to support the program, and CMU has committed a further $30 million in endowed funds. The two organizations also are jointly establishing a $10 million fund to support the program's developmental years. The first cohort of students will enroll in fall 2024; at steady state, the CMU Rales Fellows Program is expected each year to underwrite 86 graduate students in STEM fields in perpetuity, educating thousands of research and industry leaders in the coming decades.

A student researcher in a lab

U.S. research and development across STEM fields has been a key driver of innovation, economic growth and global competitiveness. But in just the last 20 years, the rapid growth of other countries' investments in these areas has put the U.S. global lead position in peril. To maintain the nation's leadership role, the research and education communities and the private sector have called for increased investment in research funding and talent development, especially at the master's and doctorate levels.

"Addressing the challenges of our modern world will require the concerted efforts of a highly talented pool of STEM trailblazers who can bring a diversity of ideas and experiences to engender solutions," said CMU President Farnam Jahanian(opens in new window). "At the heart of the CMU Rales Fellows Program is a commitment to remove existing barriers and empower this next generation of domestic talent so they can apply their skills and ingenuity to realize new scientific and technological breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity. CMU is grateful to the Rales Foundation for their generous support, and we are honored to partner with them to enact our shared vision for this initiative and to honor the legacy of Norman and Ruth Rales."

"Expanding access to a graduate STEM education will bring to the table new voices and diverse talent, which will drive the innovations and breakthroughs for our nation's and our world's future." — Joshua B. Rales

The Norman and Ruth Rales Foundation was established in 1986 by Norman and Ruth Rales, two children of immigrants who grew up in modest circumstances. Their goal in creating the foundation was to continue their shared, lifelong desire to help people in need, as they had once been helped, and create opportunities through which others might thrive.

"The Rales Foundation trustees are proud to partner with Carnegie Mellon to establish the CMU Rales Fellows Program. Expanding access to a graduate STEM education will bring to the table new voices and diverse talent, which will drive the innovations and breakthroughs for our nation's and our world's future," said Joshua B. Rales, President and Trustee of the Rales Foundation. "This initiative aligns perfectly with the creative vision of our beloved parents, Norman and Ruth, who deeply believed in extending a helping hand to others and keeping alive the American spirit of generosity and possibility."

The "Missing Millions"

Students in a lab

The National Science Foundation and National Science Board have issued urgent calls to increase the U.S. STEM talent pool in order for the U.S. to maintain its position as a leader in research and to compete globally.In its Vision 2030(opens in new window), the NSB called for the U.S. to "be aggressive about cultivating the fullness of the nation's domestic talent" by broadening the diversity of the STEM workforce, in which women, Black and Latinx people are significantly underrepresented compared to their share of the overall population.

Data from the NSF and NSB show that women, Black and Latinx students are one-half and sometimes even one-third as likely to be working in STEM fields as their white male counterparts. Similarly, the Pew Research Center in 2021 found that first-generation students were about 20% less likely to pursue a graduate degree. Carnegie Mellon's own analysis finds this underrepresentation is reflected in students completing graduate STEM degrees. These underrepresented groups cite cost as well as undergraduate debt as the key reasons they do not pursue graduate education. For first-generation students pursuing doctoral degrees, the average undergraduate loan was 65% higher than for continuing-generation students, according to the Council of Graduate Schools.

Empowering students from underrepresented and under-resourced backgrounds — dubbed the Missing Millions by the National Science Foundation — through a graduate degree will increase the number and diversity of voices within STEM research, education and innovation, and also will help the U.S. meet the growing need for a new generation of leaders.

"In order to foster more inclusive leadership in STEM, we must acknowledge both the strengths of under-resourced and underrepresented students and the barriers that stand in the way of their success in graduate STEM education," said Mary Schmidt Campbell, President Emerita of Spelman College. "As I have seen firsthand in my own career, students from under-resourced and underrepresented backgrounds bring abundant assets to their STEM education. In addition to tuition assistance, and other academic support services, they need an environment that acknowledges those assets and affirmatively builds on them to create students who emerge as leaders in their respective fields."

CMU Rales Fellows

Students at a computer

The CMU Rales Fellows Program will directly address the Missing Millions issue through a distinctive program that provides students with full tuition as well as a stipend to cover living expenses, housing and health insurance.The intended beneficiaries of the program are candidates from low socio-economic backgrounds, first-generation college students, graduates of minority-serving institutions and other groups who remain underrepresented in STEM.

CMU Rales Fellows will benefit from an ecosystem of holistic opportunities to support their success as they work to develop into future STEM leaders. This support and development system will include comprehensive, cohort-based onboarding; dedicated career services to assist Fellows to prepare for a broad range of professional outcomes; faculty mentoring; programs to expand their personal networks; and opportunities to build leadership skills in local and global communities.

The CMU Rales Fellows Program initially will be open to students pursuing select graduate degrees in the College of Engineering(opens in new window), Mellon College of Science(opens in new window), School of Computer Science(opens in new window), Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences(opens in new window), and Neuroscience Institute(opens in new window). Eventually, the program will be open to all of CMU's graduate STEM programs.

Carnegie Mellon also has entered into a partnership with the nationally recognized Ron Brown Scholar Program to help identify and engage top candidates for the CMU Rales Fellows program. The Ron Brown Scholar Program has worked for nearly three decades to create pathways to higher education for African American high school students through scholarships and support initiatives. In addition, CMU has, and will continue to develop, partnerships with the National GEM Consortium and multiple institutions of higher education, including minority-serving institutions, to facilitate access to graduate STEM education.

"Our collaboration with Carnegie Mellon on the CMU Rales Fellows Program will create a coordinated pathway from high school through graduate education for students from underrepresented and under-resourced backgrounds who are interested in STEM careers," said Michael Mallory, President of the Ron Brown Scholar Fund and Executive Director of the Ron Brown Scholar Program. "For 25 years, we have ensured that financial need will not impede our Scholars' college dreams; we are thrilled to partner on this initiative to do the same for graduate education. The Ron Brown Scholar Program is excited for the impact that it will have on the American scientific landscape."

The CMU Rales Fellows Program is part of a larger, interconnected institutional commitment around access and support for students from underrepresented and under-resourced backgrounds, complementing the university's successful pre-college programs, including the Summer Academy for Math and Science(opens in new window) for high school students interested in STEM, and the Tartan Scholars program(opens in new window) for undergraduate students.

The grant will be celebrated during a special campus event on Thursday, Feb. 23. In addition to remarks by CMU President Farnam Jahanian and James L. Moore III, Assistant Director for the Directorate for STEM Education at the National Science Foundation, the event will include remarks by Mary Schmidt Campbell, President Emerita of Spelman College. A panel discussion will follow with John L. Anderson, President of the National Academy of Engineering; Shirley Malcom, Senior Adviser to the CEO and Director of the SEA Change Initiative at the American Association for the Advancement of Science; Carmelle Norice-Tra, Clinical Director, Infectious Diseases at Merck; and Mitchell P. Rales, Co-founder and Chairman of the Executive Committee at Danaher Corp. and a Trustee of the Rales Foundation.

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