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Engineering Employment Characteristics (1985)

Chapter: Appendix C: The Social Context of Minorities in Engineering

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Suggested Citation:"Appendix C: The Social Context of Minorities in Engineering." National Research Council. 1985. Engineering Employment Characteristics. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/584.
Page 59
Suggested Citation:"Appendix C: The Social Context of Minorities in Engineering." National Research Council. 1985. Engineering Employment Characteristics. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/584.
Page 60
Suggested Citation:"Appendix C: The Social Context of Minorities in Engineering." National Research Council. 1985. Engineering Employment Characteristics. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/584.
Page 61
Suggested Citation:"Appendix C: The Social Context of Minorities in Engineering." National Research Council. 1985. Engineering Employment Characteristics. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/584.
Page 62

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APPENDIX C The Social Context of Minorities In Engineering Helen Gouldner Until recently, the engineering profession was an occupation in which American minorities those who were black, Chicano, Puerto Rican, and American Indian were grossly underrepresented. Twenty- five years ago, only 2.8 percent of the engineers in the United States came from these four groups, although at that time they constituted 14.4 percent of the population of the country. In the ranks of the 43,000 American students graduating as engineers in 1971, only 407 were black and a sprinkling were from the other minorities. This meant that graduates of minority backgrounds made up about 1 percent of the engineering class of that year. It was clear that these minorities were not making progress in entering the mainstream of the American occu- pational structure through the technical and engineering professions that are so important in the backgrounds of many corporate and research leaders. It was also evident that the potential for increasing the much-needed supply of well-trained engineering personnel lay in the virtually untapped human resources of the minority communities. Blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians faced particular cultural and social barriers to reaching the level of academic attainment required of science and engineering professionals. In the classic study of the American occupational structure published in 1967, Blau and Dun- can pointed out that minorities were required to make many more sacrifices to stay in school but were much less motivated than majority This appendix was prepared in May 1984. 59

60 APPENDIX C students by the job prospects open to them.) Spurred on by the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the affirmative action legislation and programs of the 1970s, and the joint efforts of the private business sector and minority organizations, moves to open up new educational and occupational opportunities to hitherto neglected and excluded minorities were undertaken in a variety of ways. In the field of engineering education, it was the engineering profes- sion itself at the initiative of some of its forward-looking industrial and academic leaders which not only made a commitment to increas- ing the supply of minority engineering graduates but also followed through with bold and sustained planning and financial support for programs to matriculate and graduate a larger number of minority engi- neers annually. The National Action Council for Minorities in Engi- neering {NACMEJ was established and funded by corporate donations to carry out this mandate and to cooperate with others concerned with the education of minority engineers. After a decade it was notable how much had been achieved through the following: presentation of the "engineering story" to young people unfamiliar with the profession; early recruitment and guidance in high schools; precollege summer institutes; financial assistance to able students; special monitoring programs, including remedial work; social support systems for racial minorities and on-going consultation with engineering schools and minority engineering program directors; and research on problems remaining to be solved in minority engineering education. As a result of these activities, substantial gains in the enrollment and graduation of minorities in engineering took place. By 1982, for example, 3,500 blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians were graduated in engineer- ing compared with 1,300 in 1973. Moreover, freshman minority enroll- ment in engineering schools had tripled, and the total number of minority undergraduates had risen to 32,000 from the 8,500 levels of the previous decade. In assessing the strategies for recruiting and graduating an increasing number of minority engineers, we need to take into account some general social and cultural conditions impinging on the successful out- come of the efforts. Persistent Educational Disadvantages of Minorities Attrition disproportionately reduces the number of blacks, Hispan- ics, and American Indians in the school system at every level.2 For example, at the point of high school graduation, roughly one-third of the black students and almost one-half of the students from the other

APPENDIX C 61 two groups have dropped out of school. Although it is true that those minority students Except for American Indians J who finish high school go on to college in approximately the same proportions as their white counterparts, they do not fare as well in graduating from four- year colleges. Whereas about 60 percent of the white students earn their degrees, the college completion for blacks is 41 percent, and for Chica- nos, Puerto Ricans, and American Indians, approximately 30 percent. Thus, both at the time of entry into college programs and at the point of graduation, there is a significant reduction in the potential supply of minorities entering the occupational structure on a professional level. The scarcity of minority engineers, then, must be seen in the context of the differences in overall educational participation and achievement of minorities inasmuch as the recruitment of minorities into engineer- ing is necessarily affected by their numbers in the pool of high school graduates. Moreover, the lower educational level of the parental gener- ation plays an important role in the guidance minority students receive to prepare for college entrance. Minority students whose parents have not attended college are less likely to take the necessary mathematics courses in high school which would provide the foundation for pursu- ing a bachelor's degree in engineering.3 The Legacy The enrollment of minorities in white universities in which virtu- ally all of the engineering schools are located is of recent origin. Thirty years ago, around 90 percent of the black students were regis- tered in predominantly black institutions; now roughly three-fourths of them attend white colleges and universities. The literature suggests that most of these students expressed high hopes that they would be less apt to experience discrimination in a university setting, yet many perceived they had been rebuffed or misunderstood and felt isolated and rejected.4 The special needs for social support felt by minorities in engineering programs, especially in schools with low minority enroll- ment, were noted by NACME in considering the ways to help keep minorities in school through graduation. It was suggested that His- panic, American Indian, and black student organizations are able to provide not only peer support but to serve as " culture shock absorbers" to offset any negative psychological effects on their academic perfor- mance that is derived from a sense of social and cultural isolation. It is worth remembering that the professions that were traditionally entered by minorities were those in which it was possible to work in the minorities' own communities. It was said that they chose to "serve

62 APPENDIX C their own and practice alone"-first in preaching and teaching and later in medicine and law. Moreover, these occupations could be conducted independently of outside controls. As minority professionals have become more generally included in every kind of American enterprise, however, they work alongside some colleagues who are still intolerant of racial and cultural differences. Although a majority of minority pro- fessionals have learned to function relatively well in these settings, it has meant that many of them have been compelled to "commute psy- chologically" between the world of work and their home laase.5 In the cases of the minority engineers now employed by American busi- nesses, they should be the indirect beneficiaries of the entrance of more minority engineers into the work force. Undoubtedly, as the numbers of minority engineers increase, the strain on the numerically rare- "tokens"-should be relieved.6 Notes 1. Peter Blau and Otis I:)udley Duncan. The American Occupational Structure (New York: Wiley, 1967J. Commission on the Higher Education of Minorities. Final Report. 1Los Angeles: Higher Education Research Institute, 1982J. Sue B. Berryman. Who Will Do Science? {Rand Corporation, 1984) . 4. W. M. Boyd. DesegregatingAmenca's Colleges {New York: Praeger, 1974). Adelbert Jenkins. The Psychology of the Afro-Amencan (New York: Pergamon, 1982J. Rosabeth Moss Ranter. Men and Women in the Corporation. (New York: Basic Books, 1977J. See Chapter 8, "Numbers: Minorities andMajorities."

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