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Science Centers for Minorities Urged

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As part of a large-scale effort to boost the participation of minorities in science and engineering fields, a group of educators, business leaders, and government officials has proposed the creation of a national center for minority education.

The group, which met in Atlanta this month, also called for a network of regional and state centers to develop programs for minorities.

All of the centers would be expected to provide "early experiences" in science and technology for black and Hispanic youths, the group's chairman, Charles W. Merideth, said in an interview. In addition, he said, they would work with schools in developing curricula and training teachers, and serve as clearinghouses for program information.

Increasing the number of minorities in scientific fields is a "matter of national defense," said Mr. Merideth, chancellor of the Atlanta University Center Inc., a consortium of historically black colleges.

He cited statistics showing that blacks and Hispanics will constitute a third of the U.S. population by 2020. "If we don't begin now to deal with providing education and training for this group," he said, "the ability of the U.S. to compete internationally will be handicapped."

Such efforts must begin in kindergarten or earlier, he emphasized, to "enlarge the pool" of students studying subjects that lay the foundation for scientific careers.

The leaders organizing the meeting--who included Lieut. Gov. S.B. Woo of Delaware, Senators Wyche Fowler Jr. of Georgia and Lawton Chiles of Florida, as well as college presidents and business executives--said it was called to assess the state of minority achievement since a similar conference was held in 1984 at Lake Arrowhead in Georgia.

Follow-up to 1984 Conference

Although that conference had urged a series of steps to boost minority involvement in science and engineering, more needs to be done, the participants in this year's session concluded.

"Four years after Arrowhead, we continue to be faced with a severe problem of underrepresentation," said John P. Crecine, president of the Georgia Institute of Technology.

The group agreed to develop strategies for improving precollegiate, undergraduate, and graduate and professional education, as well as economic development, and to create an "Arrowhead Institute for Minorities in Science and Engineering" to coordinate the programs.

A report outlining its recommendations will be released later this fall.

The proposed programs for precollegiate education are expected to cost $100 million over 10 years, and Mr. Merideth said he would seek funds from private sources, foundations, and the federal government.

But he added that the proposed national center's most important function would be to highlight the successful programs that already exist.

"We are not going to try to reinvent the wheel," he said. "The center will allow people to be much more aware of what others are doing.''--rr

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