Minority University Research Associates Program History
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has a long-standing record of working with minority-serving colleges and institutions to support the development of scientific, engineering, and technical talents. Since 1995, the DOE Solar Energy Technologies Program (SETP) has provided undergraduate student support for renewable energy research and education in the area of solar energy technology at minority-serving institutions. This support has been dispensed through the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Photovoltaic Research Associates Program and, later, through the Minority University Research Associates (MURA) Program for Solar Energy Technology, which at the time was administered through NREL. Today, the program is administered through DOE's Golden Field Office, with continued support from NREL.
From 1995 to 2002, the DOE SETP provided funding to support the Photovoltaic Research Associate Program at nine HBCUs. The purpose of the program was to advance HBCU undergraduate knowledge of photovoltaics (PV) through research investigations and to encourage students to pursue careers in the solar energy industry. The projects at those nine institutions included laboratory research, solar resource measurements, systems studies, solar system architecture, and field projects in Africa.
Because of its success, DOE expanded the program in 2003 to include other solar energy technologies, providing additional opportunities for research in fields other than PV. DOE also expanded the program to include all accredited colleges and universities defined as Minority Serving Institutions (Section § 365(3) the Higher Education Act (HEA) (20 U.S.C. 1067k(3)) and renamed the program the Minority University Research Associates Program. The expansion allowed Hispanic-, Native American-, Alaska Native-, and Hawaiian Native-serving colleges and universities to participate in the program in addition to HBCUs.
In 2009, the program expanded again to provide direct support to both undergraduate and graduate students. Funding to each institution increased significantly as detailed below (total project costs include 20% cost share from the participating institutions).
Although the funding to each institution was typically around $20,000 per student per year, the small but remarkable program benefitted dozens of minority students and indirectly impacted hundreds more. Many students went on to the nation's top graduate schools in fields such as physics, chemistry, architecture, and engineering. Others now hold management positions in large companies or are working at government labs. A few students had the opportunity to install PV lighting and water pumping systems in Africa, allowing them to see and feel firsthand the technical and social benefits of solar technology for families and villages there. Two of the schools, Texas Southern University and North Carolina Central University, were particularly successful in leveraging their federal funding to attract additional funding for expanded programs.