One of the smallest historically black colleges in the U.S. boasts a huge accomplishment: pound for pound, tiny Dillard University in New Orleans graduates more physics majors — and, notably, more female physics majors — than far bigger schools with more resources.
With an enrollment of 1,200, Dillard ranks second in the country in black physics undergrads.
The point was punctuated at Dillard’s recent commencement exercises, which featured a keynote address from actress and singer Janelle Monae, one of the stars of “Hidden Figures.” The award-winning film tells the story of the black women scientists who fought Jim Crow while doing essential mathematical calculations for America’s space program.
“To see that we have this significant number of women representing (science and math) in the way that they are is a blessing to America and our future,” Monae told The Associated Press in an interview before the May 13 graduation. “To have physicists coming out of New Orleans who are African-American women … that’s a huge deal.”
Nine of the top 10 physics departments in the country – at black or white schools – producing the most African American undergraduates in physics are at HBCUs, according to the American Institute of Physics. Currently, the top producing school is Morehouse College, an all-male HBCU with nearly twice as many students as Dillard.
Dillard, the smallest on the list, ranked comparably with North Carolina A&T University, with more than 10,000 students. The private, liberal arts college has conferred 33 physics degrees since 2007, including nine to black women.
Degrees in physics are rare for women and minorities. That Dillard – with a campus that is 73 percent female – is outpacing its larger counterparts is significant, said University of Pennsylvania higher education professor Marybeth…