The Mentoring Kingpin of Higher Education in Science for African Americans

Diola Bagayoko is a professor of physics at Southern University, the historically black educational institution in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. A native of Mali, Professor Bagayoko has developed a successful program to increase the number of black students studying in the natural sciences.

With grants from the National Science Foundation and the Defense Department’s Office of Naval Research, Professor Bagayoko established the Timbuktu Academy, a summer program in Baton Rouge for middle and high school students to prepare them for studying science in college. The program is open to students of all races but most applicants are from underrepresented minority groups, and a majority of students who attend the academy are African Americans.

The program has been highly successful. Of the 600 high school students who have participated, about 80 percent have gone on to major in science or mathematics in college. Of the 150 students who attended the academy and then enrolled at Southern University, more than 60 percent went on to graduate school to study science. For academy graduates who major in physics at Southern University and are under the direct tutelage of Professor Bagayoko, 90 percent have earned a bachelor’s degree in four years. The overall black student graduation rate at Southern University is 25 percent.