In This Issue
Winter Bridge on Frontiers of Engineering
December 15, 2023 Volume 53 Issue 4
This issue features articles by 2023 US Frontiers of Engineering symposium participants. The articles cover pressing global issues including resilience and security in the information ecosystem, engineered quantum systems, complex systems in the context of health care, and mining and mineral resource production.

President's Perspective: The Diversification of the National Academy of Engineering

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Author: Percy A. Pierre and John L. Anderson

Diversifying any organization requires leadership’s commitment to progress and sustainability. The value ­diversity brings to the creativity of engineering and to leadership in general has been well articulated (Castillo-Page and Anderson 2022; May 2022; Slaughter 2020). Diversity is particularly important to the National ­Academy of Engineering (NAE) because its charter makes it an advisor to the federal government. Unfortunately, the engineering profession and the NAE have been slow to achieve significant diversity.

Historically, racial minorities and women were not recruited into engineering majors at universities, and they were sometimes even dissuaded from applying (Pierre 2015). In 1974 only 12 African Americans received a PhD in engineering in the United States out of a total of about 3,000 degrees granted. In 1973, under the leadership of the then president of the NAE, Robert Seamans, the NAE launched a program to correct this deficiency called the National Advisory Committee of Minorities in Engineering (NACME).[1] This initiative was in response to a recommendation presented by Percy Pierre to the 1973 NAE Symposium on Minorities in Engineering. NACME was led by industrial CEOs and worked with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to create programs that would increase the number of minority graduates in engineering. In 2021, 611 PhD degrees were awarded to underrepresented minorities (URMs),[2] representing 5% of the nation’s total. Many of the current NAE members who are URMs participated in programs created by Sloan with the help of NACME industrial members.

In 1975, eleven years after its founding, the NAE ­elected its first member from a URM group. Among the first 1500 members elected to the NAE, only 3 were URMs. Between 2004 and 2013, only 3% of elected members were URMs. The NAE began to take pro­active action in 2014 by providing incentives for election based on nominations of URMs (and women), and during the next decade the election of URMs was 9% of the total. Nominations increased, and the search committees looked with more intensity at potential candidates from minority groups—and the effort paid off.

In response to the murder of George Floyd in 2020, John Anderson wrote a letter to NAE members acknowledging that the NAE should use this opportunity to do more to promote diversity in the engineering profession and the NAE. Warren “Pete” Miller replied to that letter, suggesting ways that the NAE might respond. Percy Pierre suggested establishing an advisory committee to work with the NAE president in this endeavor. The Racial Justice and Equity Committee (RJ&E) was formed, and Percy Pierre was the founding chair of the committee. Two of the charges to the committee were to bring awareness to NAE members of the importance of racial and ethnic diversity to the engineering profession and to increase the number of URMs elected to the NAE and those serving in leadership positions.

In March 2020 there were 49 self-reported URM members of the NAE; in February 2023 there were 123, representing 5% of the NAE’s membership. This significant increase in just three years resulted from the work of many individuals who understand the importance of a diverse membership of outstanding engineers. Of note is the tremendous effort by NAE member Darryll Pines, chair of the RJ&E Subcommittee on Membership, to augment the work of the NAE to find highly qualified persons to nominate for NAE membership. While more progress is still needed, we should reflect on a positive outcome that resulted from the commitment and resolve of so many NAE members.

The RJ&E Committee also established a standing member-led committee titled URMNAE, which invites all NAE members to discuss barriers minority groups face in the engineering profession and in election to the NAE and to plan activities that promote inclusion of minority populations. This committee is led by Warren Miller and Rafael Bras. A social media program is under development by RJ&E Committee Co-Chair Wanda Sigur to promote engineering among young people from underrepresented groups in our society.

In the long term, developing a more diverse membership of the NAE essentially depends on drawing more young people into the study of engineering from all segments of our society. By 2060 the US population is projected to be only 22% non-Hispanic white males.[3] The engineering profession cannot flourish by relying on this narrow segment of our population. The future strength of the United States’ economy, health, and security depends on maintaining its leadership position in engineering. Continual renewal of an excellent workforce is necessary, which will require the inclusion of all segments of our society. The NAE can serve the nation by leading the way, and we shall do so.

References

Castillo-Page L, Anderson JL. 2022. Diversity and Inclusion: Essential Drivers of Leadership. The Bridge 52(2):3–4.

May GS. 2022. Engineering and the Diversity Imperative: The 15th Grand Challenge. NAE Perspectives, Oct 17.

Pierre PA. 2015. A brief history of the collaborative minority engineering effort: a personal account. In: Changing the Face of Engineering: The African American Experience, 13–36. Slaughter JB, Tao Y, Pearson W, eds. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Slaughter JB. 2020. A Call to Action for Racial Justice and Equity in Engineering. Special Lecture on Racial Justice and Equity, 56th National Academy of Engineering Annual Meeting, Oct 5, Washington, DC.

 


[1]  https://www.nacme.org

[2]  https://www.nae.edu/238548/NAE-Presidents-Racial-Justice- and-Equity-Committee

[3]  https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/­ publications/2020/demo/p25-1144.pdf

About the Author:Percy A. Pierre is a member of the NAE and the founding chairman of its Racial Justice and Equity Committee. John L. Anderson is president of the NAE.