Capitol Hill launch held for MSIRP'06 Conference at UTPA in February
Posted: 12/13/2005
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A coalition of supporters of Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) joined forces in the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. recently to announce to congressional members and their staff the nationwide Minority Serving Institutions Research Partnerships (MSIRP'06) Conference to be held at The University of Texas-Pan American (UTPA) in Edinburg, Texas on Feb. 2-4, 2006. The MSIRP'06 conference, co-hosted by Congressman Rubén Hinojosa (TX-15), is the first to be developed by a strategic planning group of representatives from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs), and Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs).

The MSIRP'06 Conference includes workshops, seminars, keynote speakers as well as a business and a career expo bringing together industry experts from the fields of academia, government and the private sector. The goal of the nationwide conference is to encourage, create and support alliances between academic institutions, government and the private sector through collaborative business, education, research and development and contracting initiatives.

In his welcome on behalf of UTPA, Dr. Rodolfo Arévalo, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, expressed how delighted he was for UTPA to be the first Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) to host this nationwide endeavor. UTPA joins Southern University and A&M College and Jackson State University in bringing together the third national research and capacity building conference. Arévalo expressed appreciation for the leadership and foresight of Drs. Donald Andrews and Michael Stubblefield of Southern University and A&M College and Dr. Mary White of Jackson State University, the hosts of the first and second regional conferences.

U.S. Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn, both from Texas, as well as Congressmen Hinojosa, Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Lloyd Doggett (TX-25) and Henry Cuellar (TX-28) expressed their support of the conference and their plans to attend.

Doggett said the conference will provide an opportunity for collaboration amongst all who are about assuring that every young person in this country is able to achieve their full God-given potential. "I look forward to the good work that I know will be done and to lending support, not only for this conference, but in working with our colleagues to ensure that student financial assistance and support for our colleges that focus on African Americans and Latinos get the resources that they need to accomplish their very important task," he said.

The importance of research dollars was stressed by Cuellar. "I think that the federal government working with corporations and other groups can do a better job in providing the money for the research raising the quantity and quality of research activities today, we will be increasing the health and prosperity of our nation's economy for tomorrow. After all, it has been determined that minority students who participate in research activities are more likely to embark on graduate and doctoral careers whether it is in the field of science, mathematics, technology, or engineering," Cuellar said.

In her released statement, Jackson Lee said it was imperative in the new millennium that minorities are given opportunities for a better education and a better quality of life. "Institutions of higher learning which endear themselves to minorities are at the forefront of this movement, and must be supported not only by students, alumni, faculty, and local business, but our government as well. If we want to fulfill our commitment of having an America that gives each and every citizen the chance to reach their full potential, events such as this need to take place," she said.

Maintaining the United States as a model of equality opportunity requires the Department of Defense (DoD) to participate in a variety of forums aimed at increasing in the minority community an awareness of career and business opportunities within the DoD said Clarence Johnson, principal director of the Office of the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Equal Opportunity. Primary among these efforts, he said, is participation in conferences hosted by MSIs.

"We think it is critically important that as national race and ethnic demographics reflect a rapidly growing minority proportion this is important for us to do because, as America grows more diverse every year, so does its armed forces. The DoD participates in these conferences as a means of reaching out to talented youth from all segments of our society and to enhance the capability of MSIs because these institutions serve as a vital pipeline to DoD for military and civilian workforces. We think our participation in conference activities helps to create a pool of potential future employees who have had positive meaningful experiences with DoD military and civilian personnel, sparking them to consider DoD as the employer of choice," Johnson said.

In a prepared statement, Hinojosa emphasized that it was critical to national security and future economic prosperity that MSIs play a bigger role in research and development. "These are the institutions that are educating and graduating the fastest growing segments of our population. Investing in MSIs builds the capacity of our workforce and builds the capacity of our communities. Increasingly, in our knowledge-based economy, institutions of higher education will be the engines of economic development," he said.

Also voicing support for the MSIRP'06 Conference is Jeanette L. Brown, director, Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), who also encouraged other federal agencies to support the conference and to participate as full partners with the MSIs. "I firmly believe the federal government, minority institutions, minority students - and the nation as a whole - have a lot to gain by our partnering and working together to build a research infrastructure in the nation's educational institutions that can further science in environmental, health, space, and other fields," Brown said.

Benita Fortner, director of the Supplier Diversity Program at Raytheon, said Raytheon is very interested in the development of minorities in the areas of math and science since a declining work force is a major issue for the company. "Anything that is important to our major customer, the DoD, is very important to us. Along with that, we are committed to diversity across our work force entirely. So, we are very excited to be a sponsor of the MSIRP'06," she said.

Northrop Grumman representative Kevin Briscoe, manager of Communications, Defense Mission Systems, said Northrop Grumman has long been committed to diversity across all areas of business. "We're specifically involved in this conference to see how we can develop a stronger partnership with MSIs and other corporations and government agencies to hopefully build a stronger pipeline, to help get minorities into technology workspaces," Briscoe said.

According to Dr. Donald R. Andrews, dean, College of Business at Southern University, the MSIRP'06 Conference will provide answers for those corporations, government agencies and academic institutions searching for ways to increase their capacity for research and contracting opportunities at MSIs through collaboration. "MSIRP'06 serves as the platform to assist those institutions that are in the process of transformation and can benefit from collaboration with other MSIs that are making this same journey. The benefits obtained by attending the conference include information that is provided from highly accomplished speakers and the valuable networking, research and contracting opportunities that can be developed," Andrews said.

Robert Faithful, director, Department of the Interior's OSDBU, discussed his involvement in the creation of the first MSIRP conference and the important role MSIs play in communities in developing and encouraging businesses. Faithful also talked about how his department and MSIs will face future challenges. "We are in a new time frame - and I say that with all seriousness - after the hurricanes that struck, we have challenges that will transform government as well as transform business to stay in contact with educational organizations and have them play a role not only as receiving grants, but also in helping to support and go out after business contracts - it is a critical part of rebuilding the country," he said.

Dr. Wendy Lawrence-Fowler, associate vice president for Research at UTPA, said the conference will foster collaborations that will help MSIs successfully pursue contracts and other research opportunities. I would suggest, and I warmly invite, everyone to come join us. Come with an open mind and willingness to talk, and see what we can do," Fowler said.

The conference anticipates 800 to 1,000 participants who will have the chance to meet and network with industry experts and thus create significant relationships between the business community and the resources of government and minority institutions. MSIs may participate in forums and workshops to learn how to create sustainable relationships with businesses and government and inform them about employment programs and opportunities within these entities. UTPA is joined in the planning effort by more than 30 institutions of higher education, as well as the EPA, NASA, DoD, Department of Interior, Department of Agriculture, Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Commerce.

In addition to Senators Hutchison and Cornyn; Congressmen Hinojosa, Jackson Lee, Doggett, and Cuellar; and EPA's Brown, other speakers will include Francis J. Harvey, secretary of the Army; Miguel L. Dominguez, assistant secretary of the Air Force; Adam Chavarria, executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans; Anna Escobedo Cabral, treasurer of the United States; Tracey L. Pinson, director, OSDBU-Army; Joseph G. Diamond, Director OSDBU-US Air Force, Scott Denniston, director OSDBU-Veterans Administration; and Dr. Robert E. Barnhill, vice chancellor for Research and Technology Transfer, The University of Texas System.

On behalf of UTPA and the conference planning committee, MSIRP'06 Conference Manager Shelly Chtcherba expressed gratitude for the positive response and support displayed by members of Congress, government agencies, private contractors and the partnering universities. Chtcherba said conference funding provided by Gateway and NASA Glenn Research as well as the commitment from the EPA and the Office of the Secretary of Defense were particularly appreciated. UTPA officials, she said, are working with other agencies like the Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services, U.S. Army, and the Central Intelligence Agency that have promised anticipated funding support for the conference. Charles Kennedy of Gateway Higher Education said his company was excited about serving as a supporting partner of the conference with UTPA and other MSIs.

Information on the MSIRP'06 Conference at UTPA is available at or via e-mail at or by calling 956/292-7343.