Connecting Efforts to Support Minorities in Engineering Education

Project Status
October 13, 2023
Alfred P. Sloan Foundation
Final Report
Connecting Efforts to Support Minorities in Engineering Education
Authoring InstitutionProgram Office; National Academy of Engineering; National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
Publication DateSeptember 25, 2023
  • Mar182022
    Mar 18 2022 - Apr 20 2022Connecting Efforts to Support Minorities in Engineering Education Workshop
    The National Academy of Engineering (NAE), with support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, invites registrations for a workshop on Connecting Efforts to Support Minorities in Engineering Education that will be held virtually on March 18, March 30, and April 20, 2022. This workshop is ...

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 traditionally marginalized 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 students from traditionally marginalized populations earning engineering degrees have often 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 increase the number of engineering undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate students and faculty from traditionally minoritized populations in US colleges and universities. Specifically, the workshop will explore existing and potential collaborations between extramural initiatives that support success in engineering education pathways for individuals from historically minoritized populations as well as 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 undergraduate and graduate students from historically marginalized populations 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 students from historically marginalized populations at all levels with appropriate opportunities in engineering higher education.

The primary product from the project will be a workshop proceedings publication summarizing discussions from the event and including the commissioned papers in an appendix. The workshop and follow-up activities will synthesize and communicate effective strategies to broaden participation in engineering. They will provide the space to evaluate how different data systems and technologies across disparate programs can be coordinated to improve efforts related to inclusion, diversity, participation, and retention of students from historically minoritized populations in engineering education. The formation of collaborations among institutions after the workshop will yield a network of organizations committed to the recruitment, retention, and success of populations who have been marginalized in engineering. Ideally, these new coalitions will begin to use information technology to facilitate students’ progression from one program to another at the next level. New data science techniques can enable better coordination across sectors and advance the research base on the recruitment, retention, and advancement in engineering. In addition, practices shared at the workshop or refined in follow-up work may apply to other populations who are traditionally marginalized in engineering (e.g., women, LGBTQ, persons with disabilities).