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University Deans Pledge To Grow Engineering Diversity

Just as the American College & University Presidents' Climate Commitment drew attention to the goal of achieving carbon neutrality on campus, a new initiative hopes to pressure schools to accelerate their work diversifying students and faculty. So far 102 signatories in institutions ranging from Arizona State University to Western Carolina U have signed an action plan laid out by the American Society for Engineering Education committing "through specific action to provide increased opportunity to pursue meaningful engineering careers to women and other underrepresented demographic groups."

The announcement came during a "demo day" taking place at the White House earlier this month that also emphasized commitments from both the public and private sector to support under-represented groups and provide entrepreneurial activities.

The schools are signing on to establish programs in several areas:

  • Development of diversity plans for engineering programs with help and input from organizations that include the National Society of Black Engineers, the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers and the Society of Women Engineers;
  • Creation of annual equity and inclusion climate surveys of faculty, students and staff in order to assess and improve the diversity plans;
  • Outreach to at least one K-12 school system or community college to increase the pipeline of engineering students who come from diverse backgrounds;
  • Commitment to developing strong partnerships between research-intensive engineering schools and non-Ph.D. granting engineering schools serving populations underrepresented in engineering; and
  • A pledge to become proactive in increasing representation of women and underrepresented minorities in the faculty.

Among the deans who signed the letter was Jeffrey Ray, dean of Western Carolina's Kimmel School of Construction Management and Technology. "The importance of diversity in engineering fields provides many more innovative solutions to problems impacting our society as a whole," he noted in a prepared statement.

Kyle Squires, interim dean of the Fulton Schools of Engineering said that while Arizona State was "encouraged about the gains we have made in the diversity of our student body and faculty," the university needs to "continue to improve as we strive to be representative of Arizona's demographic landscape." About 25 percent of domestic students are from underrepresented groups; a tenth are Hispanic or Latino and three percent are American Indian.

Currently, the percentage of female students in engineering at the Arizona institution hovers around 20 percent, about the national average. "We feel we are well positioned to make strong gains in that area, as well," Squires added.

About 42 percent of the Fulton Schools faculty are from underrepresented minority groups and about 22 percent are female.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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