Now, because of a $150 million gift from Mike Bloomberg announced Tuesday, the private research university based in Baltimore plans to expand access to PhD programs in science, technology, engineering and math. The money will fund a recruiting and talent-development initiative targeting students in the STEM fields from historically Black colleges and other minority-serving institutions.
The gift is the latest from Bloomberg to Hopkins, raising to $3.55 billion the record-shattering lifetime total the billionaire business executive and former New York mayor has given to his alma mater. No philanthropist, according to experts in these matters, has given more to any U.S. university. In 2018, Bloomberg gave Hopkins $1.8 billion for student financial aid.
Hopkins President Ronald J. Daniels said the new gift will enable the university to tackle a “striking and persistent disparity” in graduate education. For generations, PhD programs, especially in science and engineering, have lagged in recruiting Black, Latino and Native American students. “Over the last 20-plus years, report after report, committee after committee, has lamented the lack of progress,” Daniels said.
Bloomberg graduated from Hopkins in 1964 with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering.
“STEM fields play an increasingly important role in developing innovative solutions to a wide range of pressing challenges, yet STEM PhD programs don’t reflect the broad diversity of our country,” Bloomberg said in a statement. “So creating more equitable opportunities for more students is critical to our country’s future in so many ways.”
As of 2020, Hopkins had 2,343 PhD students in more than 30 STEM programs. Forty-one percent of those students were international. About 11 percent, or 266, were U.S. citizens or permanent residents who identified as Black, African American, Hispanic, American Indian, Native Hawaiian or Alaska Native. Most of the rest identified as White or Asian American.
With the gift, Hopkins plans to create about 100 new slots for students who earned bachelor’s degrees from historically Black colleges and universities and hundreds of other schools that meet a federal standard for designation as minority-serving institutions.
Those who fill the new slots, starting in fall 2022, will be known as Vivien Thomas Scholars. Hopkins said the name honors a Black scientist who did pioneering work at Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1940s in the development of a cardiac surgery technique, called a Blalock-Taussig shunt, to facilitate oxygenation of blood in certain newborns suffering from “blue baby syndrome.”
Thomas grew up in the South during the Jim Crow era and was never able to enroll in medical school. Hopkins awarded him an honorary doctorate in 1976, and he was named an instructor of surgery in the Hopkins School of Medicine.
The Bloomberg gift will fund up to six years of full tuition, a stipend, health insurance and travel funding for each of the scholars.
Hopkins also aims to use the gift to team up with colleges and universities to provide research opportunities and mentoring for promising undergraduates with interest in science and engineering. Some of the research openings will be designed for those who have already earned bachelor’s degrees and are considering further studies.
Among the first partners in this effort, Daniels said, will be the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), which is a minority-serving institution, as well as the historically Black schools Howard University, Morgan State University, Prairie View A&M University, Spelman College and Morehouse College.
The partnerships will make a statement both practical and symbolic.
Hopkins is widely known as the nation’s first research university and one of the world’s most prestigious. But it has not always been known as an exemplar of equal access and opportunity. The PhD diversity initiative “says to African American and other students that Hopkins cares, quite frankly,” said Freeman A. Hrabowski III, president of nearby UMBC. “That message is very important.”
Damani Piggott, an associate professor of medicine and epidemiology at Hopkins, will oversee the Thomas Scholars initiative. In the work, Piggott said, he sees something of his own path. He graduated from Morehouse with a bachelor’s degree in biology and Spanish, then earned a PhD and doctor of medicine degree, or MD, from Yale University. Piggott recalled that he came to Morehouse without a strong understanding of the STEM fields. With prodding and encouragement from the faculty there, he said, “they really opened up the world of science to me.”
Now he’s eager for a chance to help pay it forward. “I can’t express my exuberance enough,” Piggott said.