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Program Completes First Step in Pipeline to Minority STEM Workforce

July 02, 2021

Coordinators Will Begin Second Phase

Nearly a year ago, a team of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) professionals from Alabama A&M University received a $3 million grant from Department of Defense’s National Defense Education Program (NDEP).  The aim of the three-year project is to develop a multidisciplinary support system that will nurture tomorrow’s STEM pipeline from a growing minority workforce. 

RuffinGuided by AAMU alumnus, physicist and retired U.S. Army Senior Research Scientist Dr. Paul Ruffin, the team’s NDEP proposal was among a dozen selected for $31 million in funding out of almost 200 submissions. Ruffin, in addition to being the principal investigator (PI), is AAMU RISE chief scientist and a current adjunct professor.

Rounding out the A&M group are Dr. Andrew Scott, co-PI and interim director of AAMU-RISE and professor of electrical engineering; Yvette Clayton, co-PI and director of AAMU’s Career Development Services; and Dr. Jonathan Lassiter, program manager and AAMU-RISE research associate.  The AAMU team’s proposal was titled “A 3-Step Approach Providing a Pipeline of Skilled Minority STEM Professionals for the DoD Future Workforce.” 

“The NDEP program was one of the most advantageous programs that I have ever been able to participate in during my collegiate experience,” said James Sampson, a physics graduate student.  “The amount of exposure, excitement and ability to learn firsthand from experienced professionals that was provided by the NDEP program is something that should be recreated for any student interested in a STEM field.”

The AAMU initiative aligns with the goals of the DoD to increase awareness of DoD science and technology priority areas to prepare students for technical careers in national security and defense.

NDEP2Here, the primary public benefit of this effort is to broaden DoD exposure and employability of participants with secondary benefits to enhance the retention and knowledge base of minority STEM students attending AAMU and its sister MSI institutions, University of Houston-Victoria (UHV) and Navajo Technical University (NTU). This aim will be met at each of these locations and surrounding areas by supplementing the traditional STEM classroom environment with multi-step, year-round programs. 

"In NDEP, I learned more about other scientific disciplines and tools,” said Kiah Warner, a participant from New Century Technology High School.  “I learned more about building my resume, and job interviewing skills. I definitely recommend this program to anyone wanting to learn more about cybersecurity and technological advances."

"I am honored to be on a team that puts equal emphasis on students' technical and professional skill development,” explained Career Development Services Director and co-PI Yvette Clayton. “The students that participate in the NDEP program will gain invaluable hands-on experience, make informed decisions when launching their careers, and be prepared to successfully navigate and advance within the DoD. This is a win-win situation."

“We have awarded certificates of completion of Year 1 to almost 40 students,” commented Dr. Lassiter, stressing that participants met virtually twice a week in the 14-week STEM initiative, which started out primarily comprised of university students.  The initiative then expanded to include exceptional high schoolers and extended even further to graduate students and students at two-year institutions of higher learning. 

NDEP4Dr. Ruffin stated that the local footprint of Step 1 of the three-step, three-venue project has heavily depended upon students attracted from Randolph School, New Century School of Technology, Drake State Community and Technical College, Calhoun Community College and Alabama A&M University.  However, the program also pulled mentors from Huntsville’s businesses, local government sector and industry. 

Now, the program is preparing to phase two of the three-step process, noted Lassiter.  When all is said and done, AAMU will have played a role in contributing significantly to the preparation of students in technical careers within the areas of national security and defense.

For additional information, contact Dr. Lassiter at  For an informative overview, see a VIDEO about the NDEP program.

- J. Saintjones