“Surmounting the Barriers: Ethnic Diversity in Engineering Education” was the title of a workshop held September 26-27, 2013, to take a fresh look at impediments to greater diversity in 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. The objectives of the workshop were to identify and discuss the impediments to diversity and to draw on the experience of speakers and attendees in finding ways to move forward.
The workshop, held at the Keck Center of the National Academies in Washington, DC, brought together about 50 educators in engineering from two- and four-year colleges plus about 20 staff members from the three sponsoring organizations: the National Science Foundation, the National Academy of Engineering, and the American Society for Engineering Education (the attendees are shown in Appendix A). The NSF funded the workshop.
A pre-workshop survey and deliberations at the workshop itself sought to explain why past recommendations to improve diversity had not been adopted in full or in part. Using the survey and workshop responses, researchers identified a number of key impediments:
- lack of incentives for faculty and institutions;
- inadequate or only short-term financial support;
- unsupportive institutional and faculty culture and environment;
- lack of institutional and constituent engagement;
- systemic problems in higher education, including inadequate faculty skills and K-12 engagement;
- lack of learning communities that can improve retention;
- a difficult curriculum, heavy on math; and
- inadequate assessments, metrics, and data tracking.
A follow-up meeting in Texas ended with agreement between two administrators—one at Prairie View A&M University and the other at West Houston Center of Houston Community College—to develop a transfer plan for African American and Hispanic students. Florida attendees scheduled a one-day Diversity Summit on August 1, 2014, at the University of Florida, Gainesville. Graduate students were encouraged to participate.
Additional regional workshops were expected, including a California effort to commit to specific diversification steps and measure results.