Diversity in Engineering: On the Agenda at CoNECD

In order to enhance innovation, creativity and real-world relevance in your engineering classrooms and workplaces — or in any profession, for that matter — it’s imperative to make diversity a top priority.

After all, it’s difficult to solve the world’s biggest problems when most of the people working to overcome them share similar backgrounds and life experiences. Quite often, we don’t know what we don’t know until somebody with a different perspective offers new insights and solutions.

The numbers still don’t add up

Unfortunately, we have a long way to go. Consider these disparities:

  • Women recently accounted for 50% of the college-educated workforce but held only 28% of occupations in science and engineering (S&E).
  • Asians made up 6% of the U.S. population age 21 and older but had 21% of S&E jobs.
  • Hispanics, African Americans, American Indians and Alaska Natives together comprised 27% of the U.S. population (21 and older) but held just 11% of S&E jobs.1

These realities pose serious problems, according to Noha El-Ghobashy, vice president of strategic initiatives at the Institute for Transformative Technologies and former executive director of the Association of Mechanical Engineers.

“If we’re going to design solutions that successfully address problems faced by the over seven billion people living on this earth, we can’t have 84% of the engineering workforce represent only two demographic groups,” she said.

Of course, there are steps you can start taking right away to improve workplace diversity. Provide equal pay. Give diversity and inclusion officers a bigger role in making decisions about company policy and culture. Create new roles for sponsors to advocate on behalf of underrepresented minorities and assist their career advancement.

Set your sights on students

To make a lasting difference, however, you need to begin your efforts long before students become graduates. Without greater diversity in the classroom, it’s almost impossible to achieve greater diversity in the workforce.

For example, approximately 4,000 African American engineers graduate each year with bachelor’s degrees. But if graduation rates actually aligned with U.S. population demographics, roughly 10,000 African Americans would earn those degrees. And while Hispanics make up 16% of the population, they earn only 8% of all science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) certifications and degrees. As for American Americans, fewer than 400 earn engineering degrees each year.2

There is no single solution to the challenge of increasing diversity in the classroom. But experts say one way to start is by working with K-12 teachers to help them make students understand what engineers actually do, long before those students begin charting their educational future.

“I make the argument that engineering is in everything we see, do and touch every day, yet we’re somehow not articulating that to students,” said Dr. Stephanie Adams, the first woman and first minority to serve as Dean of Batten College of Engineering and Technology at Old Dominion University, and one of the few African American women engineering deans nationwide.

Karen Horting, CAE, executive director and CEO of the Society of Women Engineers, believes those efforts should focus, in particular, on the “educational disparities” in communities with significant minority populations. “Some children in grades K-12 have no access to AP calculus and physics courses,” she noted. “How do we get more equity there? Are we doing the right things to make sure kids are prepared? You can’t be coming into college needing remedial training.”

Cast a wider net with a Centralized Application Service (CAS™)

Schools and programs that use a Liaison-powered CAS — an online recruiting and admissions tool that also serves as a comprehensive data management resource — have the potential to expand their applicant pools than their traditional applicant groups.

Schools that have historically received most of their applications from a specific geographic area can instantly increase their nationwide exposure simply by joining a CAS community. When students log on to CAS to explore a single program, they also gain exposure to every other institution that participates in that CAS.

For example, in its first year using a CAS, the University of La Verne received 21% more out-of-state applicants than it had the previous year, “changing admissions at University of La Verne for the better,” according to Dr. Jerry Kernes, program chair at La Verne.

Because a CAS automates most of the tasks involved with processing and reviewing applications, it also makes life easier for admissions professionals. When Temple University joined a CAS, application review time decreased by 75% and time spent on manual tasks associated with applications was cut in half. The result? Temple’s admissions office now has more time to focus on diversity initiatives and recruiting a more inclusive class.

Let’s connect at CoNECD

Of course, those aren’t the only ways to increase diversity in engineering. To learn more, visit the Liaison table at the upcoming Collaborative Network for Engineering and Computing Diversity (CoNECD) conference in Crystal City, Virginia. And please ask us about Liaison’s recent white paper, Diversifying the Engineering Workforce: Start with Students. You’ll be glad you did. So will we. See you there.

1 National Science Board, Science & Engineering Indicators 2018, 2018.
2 Guy, S., Toward 50K Diverse Engineering Graduates, SWE Magazine, Winter 2018

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