"Building Bridges to Diversity in Physics and Astronomy"

We very briefly review the current status of underrepresented minorities in the physical sciences: The underrepresentation of Black-, Hispanic-, and Native-Americans is an order of magnitude problem. We then describe the Fisk-Vanderbilt Masters-to-PhD Bridge program as a successful model for effective partnerships with minority-serving institutions toward addressing this problem. The program couples targeted recruitment with active retention strategies, and is built upon a clearly defined structure that is flexible enough to address individual student needs while maintaining clearly communicated baseline standards for student performance. A key precept of the program's philosophy is to eliminate passivity in student mentoring; students are deliberately groomed to successfully transition into the PhD program through active involvement in research experiences with future PhD advisers, coursework that demonstrates competency in core PhD subject areas, and frequent interactions with joint mentoring committees. Since 2004 the program has admitted 18 underrepresented minority students, with a retention rate of 90%. Recent research indicates that minority students are nearly twice as likely as non-minority students to seek a Masters degree en route to the PhD. In essence, the Bridge program builds upon this increasingly important pathway, with a dedicated mentoring process designed to ensure that the Masters-to-PhD transition is a successful one.