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Bunche Institute wins renewal grant

The Ralph Bunche Summer Institute, a program aimed at encouraging minority undergraduates to study political science at the graduate level, has been awarded a $360,000 grant by the National Science Foundation that will enable it to exist for three more years.

The grant money will go toward student costs, with the University providing substantial institutional support.

The NSF has been the primary funding source of the Bunche Institute since 1997, providing a trio of three-year grants over that time. The most recent grant, expiring this year, was for $330,000. Paula McClain, professor of political science and director of the institute, attributed the $30,000 increase to rising program costs.

McClain said the NSF "raved" about the institute, praising its basic structure and stated purposes. Such a response indicates how positively the Bunche Institute is viewed in the field of political science, as the NSF grant process calls for extensive anonymous peer reviews.

"Generally, in political science... an NSF grant is the gold standard," said Robert Keohane, James B. Duke professor of political science and director of graduate studies. "It's a much stronger signal, in a way, than if it had been given through some kind of foundation."

The central aim of the Bunche Institute is to expose minority undergraduates to graduate-level political science work, with the expectation that some participants will opt for graduate school rather than professional schools.

Students enrolled in the institute occupy University housing and take two graduate courses during the five-week program. Last summer, the courses were Race and American Politics, taught by McClain, and Introduction to Statistical Analysis, taught by Scott de Marchi, assistant professor of political science.

The work can be tough. "We make no bones about it-it's a boot camp for political science," said graduate student Thomas Scotto, who was a teaching assistant at the institute for two summers.

But students and graduate schools alike have an opportunity to benefit immensely from the institute. Students develop a greater understanding of the nature of political science at the graduate level, and their experience gives them a competitive advantage should they opt for graduate school.

"If they've done this kind of program, they have a clear advantage," said Keohane, who added that success in a "serious" program like the Bunche Institute could be the deciding factor among otherwise comparable applicants for admission.

As long as the institute remains in existence, the University also reaps a host of ancillary benefits. University contributions to the institute have led to improved computer facilities, teaching assistants have gained income and valuable experience working in the summer, and the Graduate School has seen former Bunche participants among its applicant pools, increasing the competitiveness of the program overall.

Most importantly, professors said, the Bunche Institute brings minorities into graduate study, where they have been traditionally under-represented.

"It's important in bringing in people who will ask some of the same questions differently, but also some different questions," said Romand Coles, associate professor of political science. "The structural biases of power will replicate themselves in academic institutions without programs like this."

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