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A glimpse behind the scenes

Wander up to the second floor of Perkins Library and you just might stumble upon a group of 20 students intensely involved in graduate-level statistical analysis.

Although this may look typical enough, there is one catch--those 20 students tackling graduate work are not graduate students at all. Instead, they are participants in the 2002 Ralph Bunche Summer Institute, designed to raise awareness of political science graduate work among black, Latino and Native American undergraduates, groups that are currently underrepresented in the field.

For the second consecutive year, Duke is hosting RBSI, named after Ralph Bunche, former United Nations diplomat, 1950 Nobel Peace Prize winner and the first black American to receive a doctorate in political science. "The aim is to convince black, Latino and American Indian students to consider a graduate degree in political science as opposed to going to one of the professional schools," explained Paula McClain, professor of political science and director of the institute.

The RBSI is a five-week program that invites 20 rising seniors from colleges nationwide to live on campus, complete a major research paper on a topic of their choice and take two graduate-level classes--McClain's Race and American Politics, and Introduction to Statistical Analysis, taught by Scott de Marchi, assistant professor of political science. This year's class has 17 black and three Latino students.

RBSI's primary goal is to show promising minority students scholastic options other than law or medicine. "A lot of people aren't aware of what people really do in the social sciences," de Marchi said. "[RBSI] is a free chance to see whether or not you would like graduate school."

Indira Henard, a student who attends Wheaton College in Massachusetts, said she enjoyed the welcoming atmosphere the institute provides. "It is crucial that these programs are out there because some of us who go to predominantly white colleges don't have access to [environments that encourage graduate work]," Henard said.

Another key aspect of the program is the participants' exposure to true graduate level work. "Graduate school, especially in political science, is unlike anything the students have seen," said Alan Kendrick, political science instructor and RBSI teaching assistant. "It's the thought processes that are different in graduate school; it's about getting more involved and more in-depth and we're asking them to think as young scholars now.É They are being introduced to a new jargon."

The program, sponsored by the American Political Science Association and funded by both Duke and the National Science Foundation, provides students the opportunity to take a practice Graduate Record Examination and speak with Kaplan test experts about their results. Students also attend weekly Thursday night dinners featuring guest speakers and will meet with about 30 recruiters from doctoral programs nationwide.

Henard said she finds the dinners to be one of the most beneficial parts of the program. "The speakers give us a chance to ask questions and let them present their research to us," she said. "We've been able to explore the different avenues of political science through a variety of people. It's a good chance to talk one-on-one."

Thomas Scotto, also a political science graduate student and TA, added that one valuable aspect of the program is its focus on exposing students to a broad range of issues in the field, including American, international, and comparative politics, along with political theory, not just minority issues. "It's wrong to make the assumption that if you are a minority scholar you are interested in minority issues only," he said. "What we do is expose them to all four areas of [political science inquiry]É. We're not railroading people."

At the end of five weeks, each student has had a healthy dose of life as a doctoral candidate, possibly opening the door to a future in scholarly work.

"Too often undergraduates think their career paths are very limited and they aren't aware of all the options," said Niambi Carter, another TA. "What we want them to see is the Ph.D. is real and is a worthwhile goal to achieve."


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