Reichert Honored for Role in Minority Recruiting in Biomedical Engineering

Ten years ago there were no black doctoral students in engineering at Duke and few in the other math and science departments at the university. Biomedical Engineering Professor William “Monty” Reichert decided to see what he could do about that.

With funding from the engineering school and the Graduate School at Duke, Reichert took a sabbatical leave in 1996 at North Carolina Central University, a historically black university in Durham. He immersed himself in minority education in math, science and engineering and published three papers in the Journal of Engineering Education on minority undergraduate and graduate students, and on “survival skills” for tenure track faculty in science and engineering departments.

When he returned to Duke, Reichert was appointed director of graduate studies in biomedical engineering. He also headed a pre-doctoral training grant funded by the National Institutes of Health.

“This situation afforded me the information, authority, resources and mandate necessary to recruit underrepresented minority graduate students into engineering,” Reichert said.

The Pratt School of Engineering’s Department of Biomedical Engineering now has 13 African American doctoral students -- tied with Political Science and Psychology for the highest number of underrepresented minority (URM) doctoral students in all the math, natural, physical, biological and biomedical departments at Duke. Biomedical engineering also is home to 9 percent of the total URM students currently enrolled in the 51 Ph.D. granting programs at Duke.

“URM students now are spread across the BME department and flourishing, performing research in biochemical engineering, biophotonics, biomechanics, tissue engineering, electrophysiology, biosensors, biomaterials, drug delivery, medical imaging and medical informatics,” Reichert said.

His efforts were recognized Feb. 26 by the Quality Education for Minorities (QEM) Network when it presented the Catalyst for Institutional Change Award to Reichert at the group’s 14th Annual National Conference in Washington. The honor was established by the QEM Network “in recognition of the fact that the vision, commitment, perseverance, and leadership of a single individual can spark significant change in institutional policies, programs, and practices.”

Jacqueline Looney, associate dean of the Graduate School and associate vice provost, said Reichert “embodies both the letter and the spirit of the Duke University mission. In his dedicated and committed work with students, I have personally seen him ‘engage their minds, elevate their spirits, and stimulate their best efforts.’ He is perhaps one of the Graduate School’s most effective advocates.”

Reichert received his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in 1982, and moved to the University of Utah as a postdoctoral fellow for two years before becoming research assistant professor from 1984 to 1987. He moved to Duke as assistant professor of biomedical engineering in 1988, was promoted to associate professor in 1992 and full professor in 1999. He served as director of graduate studies in biomedical engineering for three years and in 2002 was named co-director of the Center for Biomolecular and Tissue Engineering. He became director of the center last year. He also was appointed professor of chemistry in 2002.