Everyone knows that engineering
education has trouble attracting women, African-Americans, and Hispanics
to its ranks. Now, a new study shows just how bad the problem is.
By Margaret Mannix
are just a few of the words used to describe the puny number of minority
faculty members at colleges of engineering across the country. Given
the actual statistics, those terms could be considered mild. According
to the American Society for Engineering Education, last year women comprised
8.9 percent of tenure/tenure-track faculty in engineering schools. The
percentage of Hispanic professors in the same category was 2.9, while
African-American professors comprised 2.1 percent. Of course, the dearth
is no surprise to leaders in engineering academia and industry, many
of whom have strived to increase those rates for several years. But
addressing the minority deficit has never been at a more critical juncture.
What was once a moral obligation to promote diversity by providing
equal opportunity for interesting, high-paying careers for all citizens
is now a national imperative, Kristina Johnson, dean of Duke University's
Pratt School of Engineering, told Congress in July. Simply put,
unless we bring more women and minorities into science and engineering
fields, we will not have the intellectual capital to address the major
economic, environmental, health, and security issues facing our nation.
Developing our underutilized human resources can be our competitive
does seem to be a ray of hope on the horizon. In 2001, the prevalence
of female assistant professors was measured at 18 percent. While not
an earth-shattering figure, the rate does signify that colleges of engineering
are moving in the right direction.
associated with engineering in higher education agrees that the root
of the problem lies in the abysmally low number of females and minorities
that graduate from Ph.D. programs each year. You cannot increase
the faculty overnight if you don't have the available pool from
which to pull,says Eugene DeLoatch, dean of the School of Engineering
at Morgan State University. Thankfully, many colleges of engineering,
professional groups, and industry members have been working hard to
up the ranks of doctoral graduates (see box).
increasing graduate enrollment is a long-term solution. What can colleges
of engineering do now to increase the diversity of their staffs? I
think institutions just have to get real, says John Brooks Slaughter,
president and CEO of the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering.
They can't do business as usual and expect that it is going
to attract minority faculty members. It is not easy.
say that again. Whether small or large, public or private, colleges
of engineering say increasing diversity among their faculty is a major
goal. Even those schools that have records others envy are struggling.
We have done much better in hiring women than we have in hiring
minorities, says Narl Davidson, associate dean of engineering
at Georgia Institute of Technology. The number of women we have
hired has continued to increase, and we are now over 10 percent.
But it's not the same story with African-Americans and Hispanics.
We have pretty much plateaued at a pretty low level,says
Davidson. The competition is stiffer, and we need to ratchet it
up a little.
no one can provide a road map to a diverse faculty roster. Instead,
engineering deans, chairs, and committees tasked with recruiting try
a little of this and a little of that, tossing what fails and fine-tuning
what seems promising. Everybody's feeling their own way,
says David Wormley, dean of the College of Engineering at Pennsylvania
State University. That may mean rethinking the status quo. Faculty
hiring is the most traditional, most conservative, and most out of date
of processes of any processes we use in universities, says Richard
Tapia, professor of Computational and Applied Mathematics at Rice University's
George R. Brown School of Engineering.
Denton, dean of the University of Washington's College of Engineering,
has found success in going back to square one. One of the key
issues is that in academia we tend not to be very good at human resource-related
issuesnot just in engineering but in all of academia, says
Denton. We don't tend to build the skills among faculty that
they are going to need to take on greater responsibilities down the
four to six members of your average search committee, says Denton. Maybe
they've been on such a committee before, but maybe not. How
will they know how to do it? asks Denton. I am in no way
denigrating the talent of the faculty. If you don't provide people
with skills and they are just winging it, they are not going to do as
good a job as if they are provided with information and skills.
That's why the University of Washington has developed a Faculty
Recruitment Toolkit, which explains the nuts and bolts of a faculty
searchwith an emphasis on diversifying the applicant pool.
anything, success in this endeavor lies in a school's commitment.
The thing that makes a difference is intention, says Davidson.
It takes work to identify candidates, follow their careers, and
eventually successfully woo them. It helps immensely if the commitment
is an institutional priority. When you bring people to interview at
the campus and it is not a priority anywhere else, your candidates
can sense that, says Davidson.
that commitment comes much easier if it starts at the top. We
have six underrepresented minorities, says Tapia. That's
not by accident. That's because the president is sensitive, the
provost is sensitive, and the dean is sensitive. If academic leaders
are up to the task, the rest comes naturally. Denton says that means
going beyond hiring two junior women each year. Give more women and
minorities endowed chairs. Senior people are the ones who are
in a position to affect the change. Import the leadership you need to
get the job done, says Denton, who can't stress enough the
importance of deans and department chairs taking on personal responsibility
for the search process. There is a fine line here. This is not
micro-managing. I work closely with them [the search committee] to ensure
they have the support to be successful.
the most important jobs of the leadership is to track progress. It's
relatively easy to find out the availability of minorities in different
disciplines, says Janie Fouke, dean of the College of Engineering
at Michigan State University. You look at Ph.D. graduates last
year. If eight percent were, say, African-Americans, and there
are fewer than eight percent in the applicant pool, I want to
know why, says Fouke. Of course, the number of doctoral graduates
dwarfs the number who will choose the academic route. But it's
a benchmark, says Fouke. If you don't measure it, if you
don't track it, how are you going to change? How are you going
to know that you changed?
say the applicant pool is key to the diversity recruiting process. Dean
Ilene Busch-Vishniac of the Whiting School of Engineering at Johns Hopkins
University says her school will not interview one single candidate unless
there is some diversity in the pool. This is important, because
typically what you do is you look to the candidate pool. If it isn't
terribly diverse, you choose those you think are best, says Busch-Vishniac.
You find by and large that it's pale and male.
is also a stickler for broadening any applicant pool. If you bring
me a pool that has all white males in it, I will not sign it.
And she makes sure the search committees know that from the start. Why?
Because no matter what you do, says Fouke, the modified pool will be
considered second class. The fact that you have had to go back
and do that in order to meet that need is going to put a stigma on that
person whether we interview them or not, whether they are brilliant
or not. Do not do that to your colleagues.
Two For One
Johns Hopkins' diversity strategies takes full advantage of a diverse
applicant pool. The engineering school reserves a few positions for
candidates who will enhance its diversity. Say a search is being conducted
for a biomedical engineering position, says Busch- Vishniac. There are
10 interviews, resulting in five acceptable hireswhich are then
ranked. Suppose number one is a white male, says Busch-Vishniac.
If person number two happens to be a Hispanic female, let's
make two offers instead of one. By doing it that way, we are making
sure we are not compromising in quality. We are simply holding
back a few positions for those eventualities, she says, that could
make a dramatic change by making an additional offer.
deans also stress that curricula vitae may need to be read in a new
light, as the credentials and backgrounds of underrepresented groups
do not typically mirror those of the majority. So they [underrepresented
groups] are less likely to be invited in to be interviewed, says
Busch-Vishniac. You have to look for expertise in unexpected forms,
says Fouke, who suggests looking more carefully at, say, those with
one of the most popular and successful recruiting methods is to identify
promising applicants early on in their careers and lives. Most
new minority faculty coming into schools are probably coming fresh out
of Ph.D. schools, says Wormley. We really look very hard
at who graduates at other universities. We would try to keep in touch
with Georgia Tech and find out who is graduating in their various degree
programs. It really requires being somewhat proactive.
out to the engineering community and organizations like the National
Society of Black Engineers can help with the introductions. If
you can get to the leadership of some of those organizations, letting
them know what you want, they can shoot people your way, says
Denton. Talk to other engineering schools and ask for recommendations.
Develop relationships with historically minority universities. Meet
a potential candidate at a professional or industry conference, introduce
yourself, and keep in touch.
isn't what you would call, ahem, an engineer's strong suit.
This is all about relationship-building, and it is an area that
engineers tend not to focus on, says Denton. In fact, engineers
are just not out of the quadrant of extrovert. To ask a big group
of people like that to become people-oriented and fuzzy and warm, that's
a stretch. We have people that do rocket science. If they can do rocket
science, they can do this.
Tricks of the Trade
many engineering deans have developed their own recruiting methods.
While no single method works like magic, allwith the future of
engineering at stakeare worth a try. In total, these methods should
help keep the push toward diversity at full speed. Here's some
advice from the trenches:
your own. We need to reach out more, says James Johnson,
dean of Howard University's College of Engineering, Architecture
& Computer Sciences. Faculty in majority institutions need
to look at minority students and identify them and encourage them
to choose a career in academia. In his civil engineering department,
for example, he boasts three female minority professorsone a Ph.D.
from the University of California-Berkeley, another from the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology, and the third from Johns Hopkins. But guess
what? All went to Howard undergrad, says Johnson.
your own graduates. The culture of not hiring a school's own
graduates has got to go, says Davidson. One of the things we are
starting to look at very strongly is our own minority graduates, because
we graduate some of the best. We will look at our own graduates more
It's the old supply and demand thing. Engineering departments are
not shy about raiding each other's ranks. We are playing
musical chairs. We are stealing from each other, says Roland Haden,
the just retired dean of the Dwight Look College of Engineering at Texas
A&M University. Howard University, for example, recently hired minority
professors from Cornell University, North Carolina State University,
and Florida State. It goes both ways, says Johnson, and
we hope to keep the positive net on our side.
out. That Florida State prof now at Howard? I saw him at an
NSBE conference, says Johnson. There should be people courting
him much more than I did, says Johnson, pointing to his new hire's
credentials from a top 10 institution in computer engineering. If
you are not where they [minority candidates] are, you cannot interface
with them to find out who is out there and what kinds of things they
are looking to do. You have to go where they come together.
private. Given the dot.com bust, layoff mania, and the ever-expanding
group of flailing corporations, engineers in the private sector might
be ripe for wooing. Yes, it's tough to compete on salary, but some
universities are finding that other factors can trump the money issue.
DeLoatch, for example, says he recently hired an African-American engineer
from a major corporation who jumped ship for one simple reason: to help
increase the number of minorities in engineering.
advertisements. Place an ad in one of the ethnic-oriented engineering
magazines. The American Indian Science and Engineering Society, NSBE,
the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, and the Society of Women
Engineers all boast magazines. A quarter-page ad may run $1,200, but
it will get a lot of bang for its buck. The subscribers are very
loyal members, and they really rely on the publication to identify where
areas of opportunity are, says John Goodrich, director of advertising
for the three latter magazines.
the Internet. Barry J. Farbrother, dean of Ohio Northern University's
Thomas Jefferson Smull College of Engineering, recently discovered that
advertising a faculty position electronicallyposting the position
on three higher education job siteswielded a plethora of minority
candidates. (Farbrother turned to the Internet after a very late
resignation by a faculty member, and he wanted to jump-start the
interview process.) Of the three top candidates (out of a pool of 30),
two are minorities. In fact, the minority candidates are our first
and second choices, says Farbrother, noting that many online applications
come from overseas.
the world. Sometimes the ideal candidate lies outside American borders.
The only way we can make significant increases in the near term is to
hire international faculty, says Haden. A number of our Hispanic
faculty are actually from Mexico or Latin America.
your reputation. Make sure your own college offers a welcoming,
hospitable atmosphere. They [minority candidates] are not going
to go where somebody says they are treated poorly, says Johnson.
Davidson points to a study his college undertook a few years ago that
looked at the climate for women in engineering. We found some
problems that we have solved. Davidson says, such as the feeling
of isolation. Davidson has undertaken a similar study for minority engineering
faculty and expects the results soon. Adds Fouke: You certainly
have to have a comfortable working environment because if you don't,
the word gets out right away.
creatively. Dianne Dorland, dean of the College of Engineering at
Rowan University, attributes Rowan's success in hiring female faculty
members26 percent of her tenure-track faculty are womento
the clinic-oriented nature of engineering at Rowan. Students get hands-on
experience initiating, developing research, and completing projects.
The vibrancy of the clinics, says Dorland, was what clinched many hires.
It works, it absolutely works. We have attracted faculty from
significant institutions like Stanford and MIT, says Dorland.
I think our faculty and students can see an immediate benefit
in terms of how we affect society, how we affect technology within our
own area, how we affect our particular industries, says Dorland.
They want to have a more immediate impact, and I think that might
be part of why we are successful in attracting and keeping good faculty.
your eyes open. Fouke has been keeping tabs on three local women
she has met recently who boast Ph.D.s in engineering. Her immediate
goal: I want them to teach one course, says Fouke. I
want to keep them lively and interested. Two to three years from now
they might be interested in a faculty position. If we were all doing
that, there is no telling what our faculties would look like in 10 years.
retention efforts. Supporting new talent goes a long way. We
recognize [the minority faculty], says Dorland. We reward
them appropriately, and we continue to ask them for their ideas about
and support for where we need to be going. They are definitely empowered
to be active faculty in our college, says Dorland. Many universities
also boast mentoring programs, formal and informal, for faculty. Alert
new hires to the existence of such programsand groups. At the
University of Washington, for example, there is an informal network
of Latinas. Making sure that a new Latina faculty member knows
about that is an appropriate thing to do, says Denton.
simple things mean a lot. It's the people, stupid,
says Denton. We just don't focus on our people. Let's
have a nice office ready for them. Let's have a parking space for
them. Let's do all that before they get there.
new hires. Avoid the every-committee syndrome. Deans and chairs
have to make sure that this individual is not being committeed to death,
says Denton. because everyone else wants this young, African-American
woman on his or her committee.
what steps universities are taking to recruit more minority faculty,
the end result means a better future for the engineering profession.
Since academia aims to prepare students to enter the work world, diversity
among faculty remains a high priority. The best way we can do
that is to make sure students experience an environment here that parallels
those workplaces, says Farbrother. To isolate students in
a homogenous environment that isn't reflective of the workplace
is a disservice to them.
more, an awful lot of what we do in engineering is design,
says Busch-Vishniac. We are looking at a whole host of alternative
solutions to problems and trying to evaluate which ones are best.
And the best way to bring all of the issues that lead to design is to
have as diverse a population as possible. That also means in the
OR TENURE-TRACK FACULTY MEMBERS WHO ARE AFRICAN-AMERICAN:
PROFESSORS WHO ARE AFRICAN-AMERICAN:
PROFESSORS WHO ARE AFRICAN-AMERICAN:
OR TENURE-TRACK FACULTY MEMBERS WHO ARE FEMALE:
PROFESSORS WHO ARE FEMALE:
PROFESSORS WHO ARE FEMALE:
OR TENURE-TRACK FACULTY MEMBERS WHO ARE HISPANIC:
PROFESSORS WHO ARE HISPANIC:
PROFESSORS WHO ARE HISPANIC:
OR TENURE-TRACK FACULTY MEMBERS WHO ARE ASIAN:
PROFESSORS WHO ARE ASIAN:
PROFESSORS WHO ARE ASIAN:
Mannix is a freelance writer based in suburban Washington, D.C.
She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Bumpy Pipeline
whom you talk to about the dearth of female and minority faculty members
at the nation's colleges of engineering, all agree that the optimum
solution lies in increasing the pipeline of undergraduates headed for
graduate school. Of the 6,085 Ph.D. graduates in engineering last year,
only 16.9 percent were women. The percentage of African-American and
Hispanic doctoral graduates was even worse3.9 percent and 3.3
economy of the go-go 90s exacerbated the situation. The economy
has been so hot, all the kids are going to work with bachelor's
degreeswhether minority or majority, says Roland Haden,
dean of the Dwight Look College of Engineering at Texas A&M University.
While the lingering recession that began in 2000 is causing a major
headache for the economy and the population, it may be boon to engineering
schools: Economic downturns typically lead to upticks in graduate school
the discipline can't depend on a tight job market to pump Ph.D.
candidates into its pipeline. We must find a way to attract, to
stimulate, to encourage, and to do what is necessary to get more of
the undergraduates to consider graduate school, says Eugene DeLoatch,
dean of the College of Engineering at Morgan State University.
the most successful efforts aimed at expanding the doctoral student
head count belongs to the Georgia Institute of Technology. In 1991,
its College of Engineering started the FOCUS program to
encourage African-American students to pursue advanced degrees in engineering.
Every year during Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday weekend, the
school invites undergraduatesthis year 350 were calledfor
three days of learning about the school, including various panel discussions
and seminars. We pitch Georgia Tech to them, says Narl Davidson,
interim dean of Georgia Tech's College of Engineering.
believe current faculty members need to take a more active role, talking
up graduate school to undergrads. Say to them: Have you ever thought
of graduate school? That little set of words could do it. Coming from
a faculty member, that is sometimes flattering, says DeLoatch.
faculty to educate undergrads on what life as an academician is like.
If exposed to these opportunities as undergraduate and graduate
students, perhaps they will continue studying for their doctorate and
find that they enjoy the academic environmentthus increasing the
numbers of minority faculty, says Bruce Carr, director of the
Minority Engineering Program at the University of Dayton.
critical mass of role models, though, that's a tough task. There
are no mentors; there is no encouragement, says Cathy Trower,
principal investigator of the Study of New Scholars at the Harvard Graduate
School of Education. And engineering is particularly non-nurturing.
Thankfully, a number of outside organizations have stepped in to fill
the void. We want to basically manage the pipeline from pre-college,
undergraduate, graduate, and then moving into faculty, says Delano
White, national chairman of the National Society of Black Engineers.
Individuals that have already traveled that journey can help others
to take that same journey, says White. Other groups bent on erasing
the Ph.D. deficit include the National Consortium for Graduate Degrees
in Engineering and Science and the Women in Engineering Programs &
in academia believe colleges of engineering need a major overhaul if
they are ever to attract diverse faculty. There is still the culture
of there is only one right way to get research, only one right
way to get tenure, only one right way to move up,' says Trower.
It's an isolated discipline, totally focused on your research,
that doesn't leave much room for a life.
be a big minus. Kay C. Dee, an assistant professor in the Department
of Biomedical Engineering at Tulane University, can attest to that.
Dee tells of two women Ph.D. students who entered the program with the
intention of becoming faculty members. They told me this was their
calling, says Dee. Alas, both have recently decided against academia.
Why did they change their minds? One was tired of seeing people
get reamed, says Dee, the other wants to have a life.
sad, Dee says both are fair critiques. During the semester, I
work seven days a week, says Dee. That's the culture.
And the students see that. I was supposed to be a good role model
and bring people to academia, says Dee. They pretty much
looked at my life and said no thanks.'