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Surmounting the Barriers: Ethnic Diversity in Engineering Education: Summary of a Workshop (2014)

Chapter: APPENDIX D: HIGHLIGHTS OF BREAKOUT SESSIONS AND THEIR PLENARY REPORTS

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Suggested Citation:"APPENDIX D: HIGHLIGHTS OF BREAKOUT SESSIONS AND THEIR PLENARY REPORTS." National Academy of Engineering. 2014. Surmounting the Barriers: Ethnic Diversity in Engineering Education: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18847.
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APPENDIX D: HIGHLIGHTS OF BREAKOUT SESSIONS AND THEIR PLENARY REPORTS

The core of the workshop was a series of breakout sessions arranged by theme on Day One and by region on Day Two. Groups typically had six to eight attendees. Morning sessions focused on identifying impediments to diversification and sharing local success stories in overcoming these; afternoon sessions were designed to produce strategies that could help push diversification forward on a broad front rather than one institution at a time. The breakout groups reported to the plenary session at the end of each day. Each group was given roughly equal time to present; however, the reports on Day Two, as attendees were leaving, were necessarily shorter than those on Day One.

The themes for Day One were identified via analysis of earlier reports to prioritize previously recommended strategies to enhance diversity:

A.    Inculcate and reinforce students’ academic and professional knowledge

B.    Enhance pedagogy for current and future teachers and faculty

C.    Strengthen organizational receptivity to ethnic diversity

D.    Enhance economic enablement of students and student support organizations

E.    Enhance stakeholder communication and action

F.    Increase education research and policy development

The regions for Day Two were

A.    Florida

B.    Texas

C.    Michigan

D.    California

E.    Minnesota and Upper Midwest

F.    (For attendees from other regions) Student progression to higher education

What follows are notes from each breakout group discussion as well as the group’s plenary presentation. These notes were taken by scribes and edited as needed for clarity.

BREAKOUT SESSION NOTES, DAY 1
(groups arranged by theme)

A.    Inculcate and reinforce students’ academic and professional knowledge
This group saw faculty culture, coupled with lack of resources and government policies (e.g., short-term grants) as key barriers to greater diversity. This aligns with the first two impediments identified in Section II, Lack of Incentives and Financial Support as well as Unsupportive Institutional and Faculty Culture and Environment.

The following strategies were suggested for overcoming these impediments:

  • Government: Extend grant terms beyond two, three, or even five years based on specific output data, to recognize that institutional change is long-term; promote articulation between two- and four-year colleges, in both directions; study what happens to students enrolled in two-year engineering programs in community colleges, such as their completion rates of two-year degrees and transfer rates to four-year institutions.
  • Faculty: Increase the number of faculty from underrepresented minorities at majority institutions.
  • Lack of financial, intellectual, and human resources: Use students as resources whenever possible; promote living/learning communities; provide community space organized by discipline for students.

B.    Enhance pedagogy for current and future teachers and faculty
A key impediment raised in this group was that of an Unsupportive Institutional and Faculty Culture and Environment. Specific issues raised included an absence of tenured faculty from underrepresented minority populations, isolation of ethnic minority students due to their small numbers, and a need for cultural sensitivity training for faculty and academic staff members. Attendees suggested the following strategies for overcoming these impediments:

  • Increase the presence of role models and faculty who “get it” through more active efforts to attract and retain faculty members from underrepresented populations. Such methods include (a) providing better guidance to search committees, (b) protecting ethnic minority hires from the excessive requests for service activities they are likely to receive, and (c) building networks of mentors for such faculty.
  • Reduce student isolation via active community building in support of student groups and social activities.
  • Enhance cultural sensitivity by (a) working with faculty and staff who recognize that a problem exists and then having this group engage those who may be more skeptical through structured discourse, (b) educating all faculty about who minority engineering students are, (c) holding regular training in cultural sensitivity, and (d) making administrations aware of the business justification for increasing diversity.
  • Raise recognition of the diversity challenge by improving assessment methods so that more compelling data can be provided on effective mechanisms for addressing the challenges.
Suggested Citation:"APPENDIX D: HIGHLIGHTS OF BREAKOUT SESSIONS AND THEIR PLENARY REPORTS." National Academy of Engineering. 2014. Surmounting the Barriers: Ethnic Diversity in Engineering Education: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18847.
×

C.    Strengthen organizational receptivity to ethnic diversity
This group focused on key impediments such as Unsupportive Institutional and Faculty Culture and Environment as well as Systemic Problems among Institutions of Higher Education. The group discussed the need for colleges and universities to create some accountability around efforts to promote diversity. Much of the discussion focused on an institution’s relationship to its surrounding community, in places as diverse as urban Detroit and rural South Dakota. If an institution’s mission includes serving the community, the group’s members felt, then it has to live up to this commitment. This implied a stronger commitment to hiring more diverse faculty and building accountability for diversity efforts into the evaluation of chairs, deans, and vice presidents. It also meant using pressure from external groups such as the federal government and the local business community in support of diversity efforts.

 

D.    Enhance economic enablement of students and student support organizations
Focusing on Lack of Incentives or Financial Support and Systemic Problems among Institutions of Higher Education, this group listed the following impediments:

  • Too little emphasis on funding research into what works
  • No generally accepted business case for why diversity efforts are important
  • A tendency to fund the flashy and new rather than a program that will replicate success
  • The tendency of energy radiated by the initial backers of a project to dissipate over time

Among the possible strategies to address these impediments were the following:

  • Improve two- to four-year pathways
  • Increase research funding to programs that build diversity
  • Build corporate partnerships in engineering education similar to those forged between medical schools and hospitals

E.    Enhance stakeholder communication and action
This group focused on the key impediments of Lack of Institutional and Constituent Engagement and Systemic Problems among Institutions of Higher Education.

The group members challenged engineers to examine the way they communicate. How should we engineers talk about our discipline? What is the culture that engineers want to convey? The group saw a lack of communication as an impediment to diversity.

The group also challenged federal agencies to dedicate more funding to looking at diversity. Members suggested that the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) prepare a policy paper to back this up and said that efforts to keep the agencies’ feet to the fire could be helpful.

Like many groups, attendees said there was a need to be specific about the value of engineering. And they went a step further, noting the importance of distinguishing between engineering and science and not switching indiscriminately between the two terms when talking about engineering.

The group said engineers could look to Google as an example of a company that had successfully challenged the prevailing culture and changed perceptions about the corporate environment. And the attendees saw social networks as a new public face for engineering—and as a way of addressing the communication gap identified at the beginning of the session.

 

F.    Increase education research and policy development
This group identified the central question not as “what works?” but as “how do we scale it up?”Attendees wondered whether we had “studied students to death” and it might be better to research faculty to figure out next steps in promoting greater diversity.

Suggested Citation:"APPENDIX D: HIGHLIGHTS OF BREAKOUT SESSIONS AND THEIR PLENARY REPORTS." National Academy of Engineering. 2014. Surmounting the Barriers: Ethnic Diversity in Engineering Education: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18847.
×

       One suggestion was to look at broad issues of education outside the classroom—as in admissions, mentoring, and changing the culture of being a faculty member. Faculty members, the group suggested, make huge assumptions about who’s in their classrooms, and this needs to change.

The group also tackled financial impediments to increasing the number of underrepresented minorities in engineering education. One suggestion: Maybe engineering shouldn’t be measured by the same graduation yardsticks as other disciplines.

BREAKOUT SESSION NOTES, DAY 2 (groups arranged by region)

A.    FLORIDA
See the summary presented in Section IV.

Members of this group took the concrete step of arranging for a “meeting of the willing” after the workshop to discuss and expand on local successes, especially new collaborative models with community colleges. A one-day Diversity Summit will be held at the University of Florida, Gainesville, on August 1, 2014.

 

B.    TEXAS
The Texas group identified three barriers to increased diversification and discussed ways to overcome them:

  • Two- to four-year articulation agreements. The challenge is in the attitudes to and implementation of these compacts.
  • A need for more organizational development and management training for department heads as well as faculty.
  • A capacity bottleneck, which could be broken by increasing the expectations of and support to regional universities in Texas.

Like Florida, Texas attendees planned a follow-up meeting. This was held in Houston on February 23-24, 2014, with three members of the 2013 Texas delegation to the workshop attending. Mary E. Smith, Assistant Deputy Commissioner of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, served as facilitator and prepared a 13-page report. The NAE’s Catherine Didion was an invited speaker. The meeting ended with agreement among Bartlett M. Sheinberg, Director of the West Houston Center for Science and Engineering at Houston Community College, and Felecia Nave, Associate Provost at Prairie View A&M University (PVAMU), to develop a “Transfer to PVAMU Plan” for African American and Hispanic students.

 

C.    MICHIGAN
In this breakout group there was agreement that the traditional understanding of what predicts a good engineering student is fundamentally flawed. The group saw solutions in tying funding to the value added in support of creative programs, and in re-funding science centers in the state that have been recently defunded.

 

D.    CALIFORNIA
California is already managing the changing demographics that will eventually alter the face of the rest of the country. At the same time the state produces 10 percent of all engineers in the United States. There is huge enrollment pressure; the rate of applications to engineering schools in the University of California system alone has far outpaced the increase in admissions. The breakout group members discussed four local steps that could have an impact:

  • Reinstate the Engineering Liaison Council that used to bring together engineering deans from the University of California and California State University campuses with community college faculty to focus on engineering-related curricula to discuss how all three could work together.
  • Work to repeal or amend Proposition 209, the 1996 amendment to the state constitution that banned consideration of race, sex, or ethnicity in higher education.
  • Focus on first-generation immigrants and first-generation college students.
  • Integrate disparate ad hoc programs designed to increase diversity.

E.    MINNESOTA AND THE UPPER MIDWEST
This regional group identified three barriers to success:

  • geographic isolation,
  • lack of sustainability for existing programs, and
  • limited recognition.

Group members called on powerful allies such as ABET to make a business case for greater diversity in addition to an appeal to social justice.

 

F.    STUDENT PROGRESSION TO HIGHER EDUCATION (NONREGIONAL)
This group, which was charged with identifying barriers to student progression nationwide and brainstorming solutions, discussed four issues:

  • The need for a central repository for information about 3+2 and 2+2+2 programs
  • A change in thinking about financial aid to take into account students whose careers at colleges and universities will stretch over more than four years
  • A need for research institutions to recognize that they are overlooking many great BS graduates of minority-serving institutions
  • An online math course, to be created through a consortium of schools, that will both foster diversity and make math more accessible to students whose high schools let them down
Suggested Citation:"APPENDIX D: HIGHLIGHTS OF BREAKOUT SESSIONS AND THEIR PLENARY REPORTS." National Academy of Engineering. 2014. Surmounting the Barriers: Ethnic Diversity in Engineering Education: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18847.
×
Page 39
Suggested Citation:"APPENDIX D: HIGHLIGHTS OF BREAKOUT SESSIONS AND THEIR PLENARY REPORTS." National Academy of Engineering. 2014. Surmounting the Barriers: Ethnic Diversity in Engineering Education: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18847.
×
Page 40
Suggested Citation:"APPENDIX D: HIGHLIGHTS OF BREAKOUT SESSIONS AND THEIR PLENARY REPORTS." National Academy of Engineering. 2014. Surmounting the Barriers: Ethnic Diversity in Engineering Education: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18847.
×
Page 41
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Surmounting the Barriers: Ethnic Diversity in Engineering Education is the summary of a workshop held in September 2013 to take a fresh look at the impediments to greater diversification in engineering education. The workshop brought together educators in engineering from two- and four-year colleges and staff members from the three sponsoring organizations: the National Science Foundation, the National Academy of Engineering and the American Society for Engineering Education.

While the goal of diversifying engineering education has long been recognized, studied, and subjected to attempted interventions, progress has been fitful and slow. This report discusses reasons why past recommendations to improve diversity had not been adopted in full or in part. Surmounting the Barriers identifies a series of key impediments, including a lack of incentives for faculty and institutions; inadequate or only short-term financial support; an unsupportive institutional and faculty culture and environment; a lack of institutional and constituent engagement; and inadequate assessments, metrics, and data tracking. The report also shares success stories about instances where barriers to diversity have been identified and surmounted, and the resources that could enable real solutions to implement steps toward progress.

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