NCCU Gets State Approval to Plan for a Ph.D. Program in Biosciences

The University of North Carolina Board of Governors has approved a request from North Carolina Central University to plan a doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) program in integrated biosciences. If the planning proceeds on schedule, the program would accept its first students in fall 2012, and could award its degrees four years later. They would be the first Ph.D.s awarded by the university in more than 50 years.

According to NCCU’s proposal, the interdisciplinary doctorate would be offered on two tracks, biomedical sciences and pharmaceutical sciences. Administratively the program would be housed in the College of Science and Technology, but it also would draw on resources of NCCU’s Julius L. Chambers Biomedical/Biotechnology Research Institute (JLC–BBRI), the Biomanufacturing Research Institute and Technology Enterprise (BRITE) and the School of Library and Information Sciences. The curriculum will include offerings from the life sciences, physical sciences, computation and information sciences, pharmaceutical sciences and mathematics.

The decision to offer a Ph.D. in these areas reflects NCCU’s growing research capacity in health disparities and drug discovery, said Hazell Reed, vice chancellor for graduate education and research. “That’s where our strengths are,” he said, “We have the faculty in place to do it, and we have state-of-the-art research and laboratory facilities. We’re determined to build a very, very strong program in integrated biosciences that is competitive with any in the country.”

Research involving health disparities — the gaps between the health status of the nation’s racial and ethnic minorities compared with the population as a whole — has been explicitly part of the mission of BBRI since it opened in 1999, and a key focus of other NCCU science and public health programs for decades.

NCCU expects the program to reach an enrollment of about 20 full-time students in its fourth year of operation, and to graduate about five per year. An additional aim of the program is to expand the number of minority scientists, particularly African-Americans, in biomedical research. A recent report by the National Science Foundation noted that African-Americans make up about 12 percent of the U.S. population, but account for only 3 percent of the work force of scientists and engineers.

“We want good students, period, without regard to race or ethnicity,” Reed said, “but NCCU has a commitment to drawing more minorities and women into the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) disciplines. We want to ensure that we have a diverse student body.”

NCCU had a doctoral program in the mid-20th century that was short-lived but historically significant. From 1955 to 1964, five people earned the Ph.D. from the institution then known as North Carolina College at Durham, all in the field of education. The degree received in 1955 by Walter M. Brown, a future dean of the NCCU School of Education, was the first Ph.D. awarded by a historically black college or university in the United States. As of the late 1960s, North Carolina College and Howard University were the only black colleges to have awarded the degree.