PRISM - American Society for Engineering Education - Logo FEBRUARY 2006 - VOLUME 15, NUMBER 6 - SPECIAL ISSUE: 2006 ANNUAL CONFERENCE
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Hispanics in Engineering
By Louis A. Martin-Vega

Growing up a “military brat” meant moving to a new location every two or three years. Looking back, however, it is clear to me that our move to Puerto Rico during my sophomore year of high school was when my career in engineering truly began.

Most of my upbringing had been on the U.S. mainland. The career guidance I received pointed me toward a legal career. I suspect this was based on my doing well in English and literature. Very little attention was paid to what was also good achievement in math and science. It was as if communication skills trumped analytical aptitude, at least enough to rule out engineering.

All of this changed when I arrived in Puerto Rico. There, I was exposed to an environment where engineers were leaders in industrial and economic development, played prominent roles in government and public service and were active participants in the political process. The idea of becoming an engineer began to take hold. My enthusiasm grew even more when I saw that it was a career that was highly esteemed and embraced by the general public as a vital component of societal change and progress. Shortly thereafter, I cast my lot in engineering, confident that it was the right match for my goals and aspirations.

While most data on Hispanics in engineering indicates gradual increases at all degree levels, these percentages are still significantly below the percentage of Hispanics in the population as a whole. For example, Hispanics account for more than 25 percent of the population in California, Texas, Arizona and New Mexico and over 13 percent of the population in five other states. Over 90 percent of the increase in engineering bachelor’s degrees awarded in the United States between 1973 and 2000 was due to the increase in degrees received by women and minorities. Just maintaining our nation’s current level of engineers will depend more and more on attracting and retaining greater numbers of women and minorities, including Hispanics. The growth in Hispanic 18-to-24-year-olds between 2000 and 2015 is projected by the Census Bureau to represent 61 percent of the total growth of all 18-to-24-year-olds in the country, which makes the situation more urgent.

Many schools are reaching out to address this challenge. I am proud that my own engineering college at the University of South Florida is developing an extensive portfolio of activities that have helped us attract more women, Hispanics and other minorities as both students and faculty. However, it is not enough.

It will always be an uphill battle unless we do more to align our efforts to the depth and breadth of the vision that inspired me to enter and eventually dedicate my life to engineering. Our young Hispanics and other minorities need to believe that while the core motivation of engineering may lie in the excitement of discovery and innovation, it is also a career with significant opportunities for societal impact through government and public service and active involvement in the political process. This broader image is still not associated with engineering among most of our young Hispanics and remains a major challenge if we are to engage this fast-growing segment of our population in the growth and development of our profession and our nation.

Louis A. Martin­-Vega is the dean of engineering at the University of South Florida in Tampa, Fla., and former acting head of the Engineering Directorate at the National Science Foundation.


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LAST WORD: Hispanics in Engineering - By Louis A. Martin-Vega
SPECIAL ISSUE: View the 2006 Annual Conference Special Issue for information about ASEEs annual conference,including workshops, plenary speakers and special tours. Find out why Chicago is the place to be in late June.


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