Connecting Efforts to Support Minorities in Engineering Education

Project Status
In Progress
July 07, 2021
Alfred P. Sloan Foundation
Key Contacts

Despite calls to increase diversity throughout the engineering education enterprise and years of efforts by universities, K-12 schools, education-related organizations such as professional societies, and collaborations among those organizations, it remains true that Blacks/African-Americans, American Indians/Alaska Natives, and Hispanics of any race and do not participate in engineering education and occupations in the same proportions as their representation in the US population. This persistent underrepresentation raises concerns about equity of opportunity and about the value of engineering solutions that do not adequately account for the rich experiential and cultural diversity of the US population. As the US population diversifies, the engineering enterprise cannot continue to rely on white and Asian males to fill jobs and address societal needs. It is time to review current and past efforts and explore ways to reverse this decline and make progress to a more diverse engineering profession.

Considerable resources over decades have been spent on initiatives to build awareness and interest in the STEM fields among young people from underrepresented groups, support their success in K-12 schools, recruit them to and matriculate them in 2- and 4-year engineering programs, reduce their attrition from these programs, and facilitate their pursuit of further academic studies and/or employment in academia and industry. While some of these efforts have demonstrated success, their impact on the overall lack of diversity in engineering has been disappointing. In addition, efforts to increase the numbers of URM students earning engineering degrees have traditionally assumed a straight path for students from K-12 to a 4-year undergraduate education and degree and finally to an engineering-related career. However, there are many pathways to and through engineering education, and at multiple places along those pathways students’ experiences should encourage and support them to continue. Programs exist to provide such support, but because many organizations work independently at the K-12, undergraduate, or graduate level, students leaving one sector have to find their way to the next. Programs looking to recruit students may not be able to target those most likely to come to their institution and most likely to be successful in engineering, and programs designed to prepare students for the next step of their education may not have good information about where prior students ended up and thus may not be able to evaluate the success of their program in achieving its primary objective. This lack of coordination results in fragmented pathways to and through engineering education for students of color and hampers efforts to increase diversity in engineering. Effective practices are not shared, and students may not learn about communities beyond their own. Duplicative and uncoordinated efforts waste time, money, and other resources that could be used to reach and support more students and faculty of color in engineering education pathways.

Because disparate efforts will be more powerful with more collaboration and coordination, the goal of this NAE workshop is to provide actionable insights to the engineering education community about existing and potential new approaches for increasing coordination and communication among the various levels of the engineering education system to boost the number of minority engineering undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate students and faculty in US colleges and universities. Specifically, the workshop will explore existing and potential collaborations between extramural initiatives that support URM engineering student success and universities seeking to recruit and retain these students in undergraduate and advanced engineering education, including as faculty. As part of this objective, the workshop discussions and materials provided beforehand will (i) elucidate opportunities for and challenges to identifying URM undergraduate and graduate students who are prepared and potentially interested in pursuing advanced engineering education and (ii) evaluate how data systems and technologies are or could be used to connect and match URM students at all levels with appropriate opportunities in engineering higher education.