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Lincoln Program Fosters Minority PhD Enrollment

Eighteen university students from around the country worked with Lincoln Laboratory researchers this summer on a variety of engineering projects through a special program designed to nurture engineering and technical careers among underrepresented minorities.

The MIT Lincoln Laboratory Summer Minority Internship Program, now in its 18th year, brings students who have completed two years of college, have excellent grades, and major in electrical engineering or physics to Lincoln and MIT for 10 weeks. Interns receive a weekly salary and round-trip travel expenses to the Boston area.

Hands-on work with real-life problems and the opportunity to get a closer look at MIT and its graduate programs attracted many of this year's participants in the program. "It's a very good place to get experience you won't get anywhere else. I wanted to see what a real engineer does," said Rosalind Hawkins, an electrical engineering major from Boston University.

Ms. Hawkins spent the summer working on an 8-bit analog-to-digital converter system for processing of CCD camera signals with Dave Weitz, her supervisor at Lincoln in the Sensor Technology and Systems Group.

Antonio Oliver, a junior from Tougaloo College in Mississippi, applied for the program because he was excited about working with equipment he wouldn't have an opportunity to work with at his school. Part of his assignment is writing an automated data acquisition system for laser experiments.

Students in the program also get a closer look at MIT and its graduate programs. And if they are admitted to MIT after college they are eligible to receive substantial financial support for their graduate education.

Elijah Porter, a senior in electrical engineering from Prairie View A&M, has been an intern for the last three summers in the Electrooptical Devices Group at Lincoln. He said he wanted the exposure to MIT to help him decide whether he should apply to graduate school here. The answer was yes, and he hopes to be a student here next year.

Overall, said Paul Hezel, coordinator of the program, "I think the program's intended effects of motivating young people to pursue advanced degrees have rubbed off on the students over the years.

"I met a young woman on a recruiting trip at Howard University in February who happened to be a former participant in the program in the early eighties. She told me that after being in the program she knew she wanted to get a PhD, and she's now a year away from that goal."

Mr. Hezel said he's heard of at least six other former participants in the program who are now in PhD programs throughout the country. In addition, of the 169 students who have participated in the program one or more summers since its inception in 1975, 13 have received masters' degrees from MIT under the program's sponsorship.

One of this year's participants, Patrice Thrash, will be attending the University of Georgia next September to pursue her PhD in mathematics. The senior from Mississippi Valley State heard about the Lincoln program from a math instructor who had participated in the program in 1979 and 1980.

Of course, camaraderie and connections are other benefits of the program. "I truly like being with the other participants because we are one huge family from start to finish despite our different backgrounds," said Jeff Thomas from Norfolk State.

Trina Russ, an electrical engineering major from Princeton, summed it up this way: "I think I have made a network of friends that will last a lifetime."

A version of this article appeared in the August 26, 1992 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 37, Number 2).

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