By Daryl E. Chubin and John Brooks Slaughter
call it a stunted pipeline. Fed by decades of uneven pre-college
preparation, appalling undergraduate student retention, a seeming indifference
to attracting minorities to graduate study, and a campus climate welcoming
of some but not others, the absence of minority faculty members in engineering
education comes as no surprise. The American Association for Engineering
Education's fall 2001 survey of teaching faculty tells the tale in stark
terms: barely 1,000 African Americans, American Indians, and Latinos
are among the 25,000 engineering educators in the nation's colleges
and universities. This is the legacy of a stunted pipeline.
a profession and academic fieldhas been slow to respond to demographic
shifts and compete for talented minority students. And that must change.
At every juncture in the pathway from school to the workplace, minorities
and women leave engineering at higher rates than non-minority men. This
cannot be explained by waning interest in the coursework or lack of
skills alone. Rather, another hypothesis must be considered: Something
in the environment or campus culture signals that certain students are
cut out for engineering and others are not (this is an insidious stereotypeno
more, no less).
the purveyors of this culture? The engineering faculty. We don't have
to look far to see the results. Historically, about 9 percent of college
freshmen seek degrees in engineering. Most of those baccalaureates in
engineeringnationally, 2 in 5 minority students and 2 in 3 nonminority
students who graduateform the pool of graduate applicants in engineering.
Many who go on to obtain a Ph.D. opt to teach in institutions of higher
education. Today, only 8 percent of those faculty members are women
and 2 percent are minorities. There could be many more, but we lose
them as much due to what weas faculty, mentors, and role modelsfail
to do as what the students fail to do, learn, or aspire to achieve.
faculty members in the United States help students succeed? Or do they
pride themselves on watching students fail? If the answer is the latter,
the profession is in the death-grip of an outmoded best and brightest
mentality, a condition by which science suffers so miserably. Such a
mentality robs the nation of many prospective American-born engineers.
The demographics of the student population tell us who's coming to college,
but those same demographics cannot predict the choices students will
makewhich fields, which professions, and which careers. That's
where faculty members come in. Indeed, they may be the single most potent
influence on who comes, and who ultimately joins them as colleagues.
to the ASEE survey, one Ph.D. is granted for every 10 bachelor's degrees
awarded. In 2001, 20 percent of bachelor's recipients in engineering
were women, and less than 12 percent were minorities. In absolute numbers,
1,000 women and barely 200 minorities earned a Ph.D. in engineering
last year. You only have to do the math to see how far engineering needs
to go for minorities to reach parity in degree awards relative to their
numbers in the general population. The time to act was the 1980s, a
generation ago, when the future composition of the school-aged population
became clear. Hundreds of reports and studies later federal, foundation,
and corporate alikecoupled with affirmative action laws that are
now under assault, little has changed. It's regret time now, but not
too late to intervene.
have done just that. Minority-serving institutions figured it out a
long time ago. These are the schools that demonstrate faculty dedication,
campus leadership, and good use of research. Their faculty members know
how to instill confidence, employ group learning and teamwork, and prepare
a generation of engineers that are more representative of the population.
They understand that diversity does not refer just to the
student body. Instead, a campus must demonstrate pluralism and inclusivity
from the topmost administrators to the support staff. Above all, faculty
members must assume responsibility for the success of minorities.
be commended for quantifying the national dimensions of the problem.
The data documents an unequivocal reality: Engineering schools have
the capability to produce more minority members. But do they have the
will? In 2001, 45 universities employed engineering teaching faculty
that numbered 140 or more. Faculty and administrators at those and other
engineering institutions must examine their practices and traditions,
re-examine their networks and strategies for recruitment and hiring,
and resolve either to compete for talented minorities or concede it
to other fields, professions, and nations. The solution, like the problem,
is right under our noses.
E. Chubin is Senior Vice President, Policy & Research, at the
National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering (NACME), Inc.
John Brooks Slaughter is President and CEO of NACME.
The authors can be reached at email@example.com.