Lezli Baskerville - NAFEO


Constitutional rights attorney and policy/advocacy maven, Lezli Baskerville, is CEO of NAFEO, the membership association of HBCUs and PBIs. She provides international voice for blacks in higher education, leads campaigns to increase support for HBCUs, a $13B business. Key to her success is telling “The Greatest Stories Never Told,[1]” about HBCUs: they graduate 22% of blacks with S&E bachelor degrees; are baccalaureate origins for 40% of African Americans pursuing graduate education in STEM, and 30% of African Americans who receive a PhD in STEM. They model cost containment, community-based research, and serve as Communiversities.


Why do you believe STEM Education and Workforce are important to our nation?

President Obama called for an America that is “Built to Last…a country that leads the world in educating its people…[A]n America that attracts a new generation of high-tech manufacturing, high-paying jobs."  We cannot realize this goal without broadening the breadth of the STEM workforce and its racial, ethnic and gender diversity.  America’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Predominantly Black Institutions (PBIs) are playing a significant role in moving the nation to this goal. For example, among public four-year colleges, 31.1 percent of black students at HBCUs are majors in engineering or science compared to 25.9 percent at non-minority-serving institutions. Among private, not-for-profit, four-year schools, 27.0 percent of black students at HBCUs major in engineering and science compared to 20.8 percent at non-minority-serving institutions. With more strategic investments in these institutions, HBCUs can lead America from “Good to Great” to a “Built to Last,” high-tech manufacturing, globally competitive economy. 


How can we assure more women in STEM?  

That the gap between boys and girls who score as “mathematically gifted” has decreased, from 13: 1 to 3:1 is debunking the myth that boys have innate mathematic abilities superior to girls. Roughly the same number of boys and girls graduate from high school prepared to pursue math-intensive majors. Despite the nearly parallel preparation, female freshman are less likely than males to pursue majors in STEM. Data suggest that social and environmental factors lead more men into STEM, and that more women can be moved to STEM success in environments that lead girls/women to understand and appreciate the power of their potential in math-intensive fields.

Family, faith and fraternal organizations must continue to play even greater roles in steering girls/women through STEM. HBCUs, especially Spelman College and Bennett College are engineering unique programs to assist women to understand their STEM prowess and to prepare for STEM success.  The ADVANCE program is having promising results in the academe. President Obama’s acknowledgement of the importance of increasing the number of girls/women in STEM to stimulate our economy, and his “all hands on deck” call to the private, philanthropic and public sectors to prepare, engage, support and elevate girls/women in STEM through modeling and mentoring, is sure to have a tremendous affirmative impact.  


Who is your STEM role model/why?

My twin sister, Honorable Renee Baskerville, M.D., is my STEM “shero.” She’s a woman of faith/ fortitude, substance/service, virtue/valiance, with an indomitable Spirit; a proud mother of a positive young man. She is a pediatric/adolescent primary care and school physician; health educator; healer of body/mind/spirit; mender of lost and fallen youth, who has served the residents of Essex County for three decades. Dr. Baskerville is a former Montclair School Boardmember, poised to begin her second term as Forth Ward Town Councilor in Montclair.

Her path from Pierpont Drive to pediatrician; through math-intensive courses, and the politics of being a woman of color in a highly competitive white male, exclusive club, with no mentor, to her current privileged places of service, was filled with adversities. Her passion to serve humanity, courage to face and overcome seemingly insurmountable odds;  her sense that while her destiny was uncertain, her ability to shape her destiny was an imperative, and her unfaltering faith, lead her through.


[1] This is the title of an anthology of stories about great HBCU alumni by David Garnett. 

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