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

Chapter: SECTION V - POST-WORKSHOP COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS

« Previous: SECTION IV - WORKSHOP DISCUSSIONS
Suggested Citation:"SECTION V - POST-WORKSHOP COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS." 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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SECTION V—POST-WORKSHOP COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS

Reality Check: What Impediments Have Tripped Up Similar Recommendations in the Past?

A key question for the workshop attendees was why previous recommendations for increasing diversity in engineering education had not been implemented. Change can happen only if the major impediments are fully understood and then overcome. Bearing that in mind, the list of possible strategies for surmounting diversity impediments presented in this section is paired with suggestions of the types of impediments noted in Section IV that have bedeviled similar recommendations in the past. This cross-referencing is shown in Table 4.

Table 4. Cross-Referenced List of Recommended Strategies and Impediments to Their Implementation

POSSIBLE STRATEGIES UNDERLYING IMPEDIMENTS THAT MAY WEAKEN THE STRATEGIES
I. Lack of Incentives or Financial Support II. Unsupportive Institutional and Faculty Culture and Environment III. Lack of Institutional and Constituent Engagement IV. Systemic Problems among Institutions of Higher Education V. Curriculum Issues VI. Problems with Evaluation

1. Link greater diversity to the college or university’s mission

2. Make a business case for why diversity matters

3. Improve two- to four-year pathways

4. Revise hiring strategies

5. Know your students

6. Make engineering approachable

7. Make an institutional commitment via funding

8. Seek partners in local industry

9. Capitalize on proven successes

10. Deal with problem faculty and seek out and reward willing allies

11. Push for change at the government level

12. Leverage the professional societies and organizations

13. Spread the word

Suggested Citation:"SECTION V - POST-WORKSHOP COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS." 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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In discussing the identified strategies and impediments Johnnella E. Butler has observed that addressing diversity is a “wicked problem” [1]. It requires consideration of complex interdependencies and efforts to solve one aspect of the problem that may reveal or create other challenges. For example, as she pointed out in 2013, there is the challenge of supporting economically “the changing financial model that compositional diversity demands; how to meet the diverse pedagogical needs that result from diverse student demographics; how to structure and compensate interdisciplinary teaching and scholarship” [1].

Building on Butler’s last point, Lisa Lattuca, Professor in the School of Education and the Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education of the University of Michigan, reported that:

“Findings from a large-scale study of undergraduate engineering programs reveal that acceptance of diversity as a professional value is far from achieved. Engineering alumni three years on the job reported that working with people who are different from them in terms of gender, race/ethnicity, or cultural backgrounds was moderately to highly important in their current work, but they also reported that their undergraduate programs gave modest attention, at best, to such skills. Faculty and graduating seniors provided a similar picture of the curriculum: both groups reported that their programs placed very little emphasis on diversity as a professional value. Programs seem to be overlooking the need to help students understand how their beliefs and attitudes about others can affect their interpersonal relationships with their classmates today and with their colleagues tomorrow, as well as the evidence that diversity can enhance team performance and produce more effective solutions to complex problems.”

The NAE report Colloquy on Minority Males in STEM [2, pp. 8-9] raises several research questions and observations that are broadly applicable in seeking to understand impediments to ethnic minorities in engineering:

  • “What are empowering, culturally relevant pedagogies that foster future STEM2 achievement? In what learning spaces (in and out of school) are they practiced?”
  • “What is the effectiveness of various school models (magnet schools, charter schools, and learning communities in conventional schools) in preparing students for collegiate study of engineering?”
  • “There should be holistic approaches to understanding undergraduate recruitment, matriculation, retention, and graduation.”
  • “It is important to identify models of institutions and programs that are effective at engaging [students] at the undergraduate levels. How scalable are such programs? How might they be adapted, as appropriate, from ad hoc pilots to institutionalized programs? It is especially important to determine what policies and procedures encourage or inhibit faculty to support the recruitment and retention of graduate students of color, for example through mentoring and other supportive activities.”

Any strategy proposed to overcome impediments should have implicit or explicit answers to questions such as these. There should also be explicit acknowledgment of institutional issues associated with efforts to foster innovation in higher education, such as those discussed in a recent issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education [3]:

  • Richard K. Boyer: “It’s not uncommon to see a ‘silo’ mentality where there’s little incentive, let alone reward, to work outside one’s immediate department.”
  • José Cruz: “Leaders need to emphasize that efforts to improve student success are not about lowering standards and expectations, but rather about high expectations coupled with high levels of support. And they need to validate and replicate success by investing in the institutionalization of proven initiatives.”
  • Susan Herbst: “What faculty hate—rightfully so—is change they don’t understand or…that is out of their control.”
  • Anne-Marie Nuñez: “When…experiments are coupled with careful collection and analysis of data (including studying financial aid thresholds and tracking students’ experiences in college), institutions can adjust their policies and deploy their resources to serve more diverse students.”
  • Robert Samuels: “The biggest thing blocking true innovation in higher education is that there is no shared understanding of how to judge and monitor instructional quality.”

Also relevant is a comment sent in after the workshop by Tonya L. Peeples, Professor of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering and Associate Dean for Diversity and Outreach at the University of Iowa:

“In higher education (and other sectors) there is a need to address underlying psychological systems which erode the ability of even the most well-meaning people to overcome implicit negative associations with minority students, faculty, and community members. When these negative patterns of thinking go unacknowledged and unexamined, the potential to develop an inclusive environment of scholarship and learning is impeded. Examination and deconstruction of the prevailing American social record, which causes us to advantage members of the majority with the ‘benefit of the doubt’ and at the same time causes us to disadvantage minorities, may help us overcome this impediment.

University faculties are not presented with incentives and rewards to encourage diversity efforts. Many institutions have not provided course buy-outs, reduced teaching loads, or financial support to enable faculty to implement impactful diversity programs. Lack of concrete rewards and support with time and finances leads many faculties to defer or ignore diversity issues for the sake of professional advancement along traditional avenues of achieving institutional rank and stature.”

Lattuca elaborated on Peeples’ point, reporting from the study she cited earlier that acceptance of diversity as an academic goal is not widespread:

Suggested Citation:"SECTION V - POST-WORKSHOP COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS." 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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“Our studies of faculty, administrators and students from 31 US institutions indicate that while associate deans for undergraduate education do not believe that there is a tradeoff between academic excellence and diversity in the undergraduate student population, the majority of program chairs believe that tradeoff is necessary, and engineering faculty members appear uncertain about the question. Our study could not identify the source of these differing beliefs, but the findings suggest the need for dialogues that address what may be unfounded beliefs about the impossibility of achieving both diversity and excellence. Research evidence challenges the widespread belief about the existence of a strong relationship between standardized admissions test scores and secondary school performance and subsequent collegiate academic success—and thus the belief that recruiting a diverse student population requires sacrificing educational excellence.”

 

References

1.    Butler, J.E. 2013. Two Steps Forward, One Step Backward: Must This Be the Future of Diversity? Liberal Education, 99(3), 8-15.

2.    National Academy of Engineering. 2012. Colloquy on Minority Males in STEM. Washington: National Academies Press.

3.    Boyer, R.K. 2013. What Are the Barriers to Innovation? Chronicle of Higher Education, September 30. Available at http://chronicle.com/article/WhatARE-the-Barriers-to/141869/?cid=at (accessed October 23, 2013).

Suggested Citation:"SECTION V - POST-WORKSHOP COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS." 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 18
Suggested Citation:"SECTION V - POST-WORKSHOP COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS." 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 19
Suggested Citation:"SECTION V - POST-WORKSHOP COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS." 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 20
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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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