Olivia Graeve, University of California, San Diego
Bevlee Watford, Virginia Tech
Leslie Momoda, HRL Laboratories LLC
Makita Phillips, Carbice Corporation
BI01.01: Broader Impacts I
Thursday AM, April 25, 2019
PCC West, 100 Level, Room 102 C
8:30 AM - *BI01.01.01
Advancing Gender Equity in Education for the Future Engineering Workforce
Justin Schwartz1,Tonya Peeples1
The Pennsylvania State University1Show Abstract
The world is in need of talented people who can design, develop, and drive innovative solutions to global grand challenges. In efforts to maximize talent development, United States institutions have engaged in activities to broaden the participation of women and other persons from groups which have been underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. Despite decades of activity to produce a workforce that reflects the rich diversity of the population, only incremental increases in the numbers of women and racial and ethnic minorities have been realized. Keeping pace with national increases, the Pennsylvania State University (PSU) has engaged in innovative intervention programs that have resulted in notable positive outcomes for women students. These impactful interventions led by the PSU Center for Engineering Outreach and Inclusion (CEOI), enhance the student experience from orientation to career. This center houses the Women in Engineering Program (WEP), the Multicultural Engineering Program, the Campus Outreach Program and the Undergraduate Research and Engagement Office.
Among these important programs the PSU WEP has demonstrated significant positive impacts on the student experience. Cohorts of women who participate in WEP interventions excel academically. These women are retained and graduate at rates higher than cohorts of women who do not participate. Data also shows that women who participate in WEP programs demonstrate higher retention and graduation rates than their male counterparts. Positive intervention programs include WEP Orientation, WEP academic support, first year seminars, networking, mentoring, and professional development. Further, the positioning of WEP in CEOI enables this program to favorably impact other enrichment programs that reach across inclusion groups. A notable example is Engineering Mentoring for Internship Excellence (EMIX) which serves a broad constituency group.
Realizing that the education of women is one of the most impactful drivers in improving global prosperity and desiring to inspire and graduate the kind of engineers who make the world a better place, the PSU college of engineering is seeking to make more transformational increases in the number of women engineering graduates. This activity leverages the success of WEP and engages academic programs to provide compelling student experiences to draw interest from women and other persons from groups underrepresented in engineering. Success towards equity requires careful review of all programs with an eye towards inclusivity. Advancement of gender inclusion also demands that engineering programs identify and articulate the “why” for engineering majors. In addition, success requires that engineering programs establish collaborations with academic programs where gender balance must be aggressively addressed (mechanical engineering, aerospace engineering and computer science and engineering). Enacting efforts to reach aspirational inclusion goals also provides opportunities to identify descriptive programs (such as Humanitarian Engineering and Social Entrepreneurship) in which future engineers can be further inspired to use engineering practice to improve global societal outcomes.
To effectively change the face of the engineering workforce requires that colleges engage men as allies. Experience in gender balanced classrooms and engineering teams in college can help produce professional colleagues who interrupt many of the challenges currently faced by women in working environments. In this presentation we will discuss the success of WEP programs. We will describe efforts of the Gender Equity Initiative to increase the number of women to reach 50% of engineering graduates by 2026. We will also discuss new programs to help engage and graduate men and women who advance equity as allies for inclusion in the global workforce.
9:00 AM - BI01.01.02
Writing Personal Stories About Thermodynamics Improves Professional Identity
Eric Jankowski1,Sara Hagenah1,Liz Neeley2
Boise State University1,The Story Collider2Show Abstract
Establishing Identity is at the core of the Chickering model of professional development and prior work has shown that underrepresented engineering students are more likely to be retained and graduated if students identify as a member of their major. In this work, we use a one-assignment intervention in a Junior-level materials thermodynamics course to test the hypothesis "Writing a true, personal story about a time thermodynamics happened improves self-identification as a materials scientist." We measure student attitudes with a Likert-scale survey before and after the assignment. Preliminary results show that of all the attitudes surveyed, the only measurable change is an increase in agreement with the statement "I identify as a materials scientist."
We discuss the impact of hosting a public Story Collider show with stories curated from the in-class assignment. We find that the attendees of the storytelling show were surprised to be emotionally affected by student stories, that the event catalyzed department discussions for how to better support students, and provided a unique forum for engagement between students, facutly, and the public. In aggregate, we find that narrative-focused activities have high potential to improve student self-identification with their professon through metacognition, with potential for increased retention of underrepresented engineering students. In parallel, the public storytelling events hold promise for improving culture, climate, and caring between stakeholders in a materials science and engineering department.
9:15 AM - BI01.01.03
Princeton University Materials Academy for Minority High School Students, a MRSEC Education and Outreach Program
Daniel Steinberg1,Sara Rodriguez Martinez1
Princeton University1Show Abstract
During summer 2018, the Princeton Center for Complex Materials gave 16 underrepresented high school students from Trenton and Princeton, New Jersey, the opportunity to learn materials science and its influences on and from society. Lectures and labs included discussions on sustainability, including the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, and coding from Princeton University professors and researchers. The Princeton University Materials Academy (PUMA) is an education outreach program for minority high school students and it is part of the Princeton Center for Complex Materials (PCCM), a National Science Foundation (NSF) funded Materials Research Engineering and Science Center (MRSEC). PUMA has been serving the community of Trenton for since 2002 each year providing daily lectures from Princeton Materials Science professors, workshops, tours and access to Princeton University laboratories, a glimpse into a real STEM academic environment. We have reached almost 300 students from 2002-2018, with many students repeating multiple years. 100% of our PUMA students have graduated high school and 98% have gone on for college, compared with the overall Trenton district graduation rate of 48% and a free and reduced lunch of 83%. This year, we discuss new initiatives and partnerships with Princeton’s makerspace “StudioLab”, a Princeton Council on Science and Technology space for collaboration and creation across disciplines (STEM, arts, humanities and social sciences), bringing in a coding and wearable technology production component to the program, while meeting Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). In addition to this, we will also discuss our launch of a new evaluation system with pre- and post- content and attitude tests. We also plan to share the curriculum online to enhance PCCM’s PUMA reach and to help teachers and high school students at a national level and improve diversity and accessibility in STEM.
9:30 AM - BI01.01.04
Bystander Intervention as a Component of Developing an Inclusive Culture in STEM
Yale University1Show Abstract
Great opportunity exists for the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) by expanding the diversity of its workforce. Increasing diversity of an institution has been expressly shown to improve education and increase productivity and profitability. However, the raw numbers of “diversity” only tell part of the story. True opportunity lies in increasing the inclusivity of STEM environments, so scientists and engineers of underrepresented identities are not only present, but welcome and celebrated. A central piece to building inclusion in STEM must be changing the underlying culture, which for too long has been defined by only a narrow slice of humanity. There are many components to changing a culture; this work focuses on one, bystander intervention. Specifically, I will present details of a workshop custom-designed to teach graduate students methods for intervening in instances of disrespect and unprofessionalism. Over the course of two years, approximately 4,000 graduate and professional students at Yale, including 350 in STEM fields, have participated in this workshop. Through facilitated discussion of several tailored scenarios, participants are encouraged to develop a wide range of interventions, so anyone can find methods of intervening with which they are comfortable. By empowering community members to intervene in low stakes situations, they can break down ingrained disrespectful behavior that excludes those underrepresented in the community.
10:15 AM - BI01.01.05
Priming the Materials Science Pipeline—Research Opportunities for Community College Students
Scott Sinex1,Scott Johnson1,Paul Sabila2,Joshua Halpern3,4,Tito Huber3
Prince George's Community College1,Gallaudet University2,Howard University3,LibreTexts4Show Abstract
Community colleges and other small institutions lack the research equipment for students to do cutting edge undergraduate research. Moreover faculty tend to have a large teaching load, less time for research and also a lack of committed and/or trained students in the research labs as opposed to larger universities which have graduate students. Prince George's Community College (PGCC), a large urban minority institution, and Gallaudet University, an institution for the deaf and hard of hearing, have partnered with Howard University, an HBCU and R2 research university, for over a decade. Since 2007, three NSF grants have funded 46 ten-week summer intern positions that have been filled by minority students including women. Many students had multiple year experiences and were supported during the regular academic year.
Six faculty members from PGCC and Gallaudet were either involved with the students’ research or the development of educational materials, including a LibreTexts textbook and matsci excelets (interactive spreadsheets), and three new courses were developed while partnering with Howard colleagues. Gallaudet funded the remodeling of its science laboratories. Guidelines and procedures were also developed for dealing with the special needs of deaf and hard of hearing students in the laboratory. Nanotechnology related topics have been included in various courses in chemistry and physics at Gallaudet University. Howard faculty have also served as guest lecturers at PGCC and partners in successful grants from NASA and the Department of Education.
We will discuss the workings of a productive partnership that has given our students unique opportunities including five student co-authors on published papers. Tracking of student to bachelors degrees and beyond will be presented. PGCC and Gallaudet faculty publications with Howard colleagues have also been a productive endeavor, including a case where a Howard faculty member became involved in discipline-based educational research through collaborating with PGCC colleagues. PGCC has received NASA support for further engineering and support course revisions and laboratory equipment. Gallaudet University also has NASA support for research and student internships within the Department of Science, Technology, and Mathematics.
This project has extended over a period of more than a decade. Support from a number of agencies through a series of grants to the partners must be acknowledged. Previous grants include two NSF Partnership for Research and Education in Materials (PREM) awards, DMR-0611595 and DMR-1205608 and an NSF IUSE DUE-152463 award. Continuing support comes from the STC Center for Integrated Quantum Materials (CIQM) DMR-1231319. New awards include NASA MISTEC, and a project to increase use of open source textbooks from the Department of Education.
10:30 AM - BI01.01.06
Science is Too Important to Be Left Just to Men
How good can American science, engineering, mathematics, and technology (STEM) be when we are missing more than two-thirds of the talent? (i.e., everyone who is not white and male) The now-false and tired contention that “the statistics of small populations” is the operative reason for the slow advancement of underrepresented groups (women and people of color) in science and engineering, especially to positions of power and impact, has too often been used to deflect action that would transform the culture of STEM research–intensive institutions to one that adapts to the diversity of scientific talent endemic to all of humankind. Teaching academic survival skills, such as COACh (the Committee on the Advancement of Women in Chemistry) has done in workshops held for over fifteen years, without addressing the still-too dysfunctional culture in which one seeks to thrive has been shown to lead to minimal improvement in recruiting, hiring, and recognizing female academic chemists. As noted in coverage of these findings: “Perceptions of inequality remained constant across younger and older faculty, racial and ethnic lines, and levels of experience in administration.” Similar difficulties are apparent among the scientific staff of national/federal laboratories.
So how can we change the world of science? Subvert the standard operating procedure. Create a microclimate that shows—over time—how new patterns of operation and inclusiveness yield productive, innovative science—including incorporating undergraduate researchers for full time (six-to-twelve months) of off-campus research. Use the scientific capital and street credentials accrued over time, thanks to the humane but challenging microclimate and the concomitant research productivity of one's team, to challenge the status quo with reasoned and bold arguments for change. Remember the importance of uppity behavior and applying “tipping point” mechanisms to move beyond initial reactions of dismissal to—over time—accepted inevitability (such as greeted my audacious suggestion in March 2000 to withhold federal funds from non-diversified chemistry departments through application of Title IX). And do not forget market forces—the most important resource in research is smart, motivated students and the most important product of funded research is not peer-reviewed papers, but the critically thinking graduate. It is time to assemble a faculty diversity index that delineates who enters a group to do research, how long to degree, and where each student goes after leaving the group—all disaggregated with respect to gender, race, and ethnicity. This prize demographic—the STEM majors seeking a research program—can then make an informed decision with respect to which universities and departments and groups win their talents. We can then see who among the lovers of the status quo in the research-intensive universities really wants to play hardball. It is time to “out” the toxic departments and research groups.
† Rolison heads the Advanced Electrochemical Materials Section at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL). The views are those of the author and are not necessarily those of the NRL or the U. S. Department of Defense.
 J. Stockard, J. Greene, G. Richmond, P. Lewis, J. Chem. Educ. 2018, 95, 1992–1499.
 A. Widener, C&EN 2018, 96(31), 20 (30 July).
 D.R. Rolison, C&EN 2000, 78(11), 5 (13 March).
BI01.02: Broader Impacts II
Thursday PM, April 25, 2019
PCC West, 100 Level, Room 102 C
1:30 PM - *BI01.02.01
Holistic Retention Strategies for Underrepresented Minority Students
Whitney Gaskins1,Dewey Clark1
University of Cincinnati1Show Abstract
A small percentage of underrepresented minority high school graduates pursue STEM majors. Often, underrepresented minority students are subjected to stereotype threats, such as being labeled as intellectually inferior, purposely not being selected to participate in classroom discussions and a lack of sense of belonging, such as a lack of inclusivity from class peers and academic advisors while matriculating through the academic programs. The Office of Inclusive Excellence and Community Engagement (IECE) has a retention program focused on increasing the retention, self-efficacy and sense of belonging of underrepresented minority students in the College of Engineering and Applied Science.
The retention program consists of 4 main components, the summer bridge program, monthly socials, collaborative math and science courses and Sunday dinners. The Summer Bridge Scholars Program is a 7-week summer bridge program. Incoming first-year students participate in a seven-week bridge program. In the program, the students live on campus and are immersed in a campus experience. They take a full course load of classes including: Calculus/Pre-Calculus, Chemistry, Biology, Engineering Design and English. The students participate in study groups and lunch and learn series to help them prepare for their first-year experience. Students who perform well in their Mathematics, Chemistry and Biology courses receive English credit that go towards their graduation requirements.
In their first year on campus, the students are grouped into a cohort and provided support to transition into their academic careers. They participate in Collaborative Courses which are offered through IECE. These Collaborative Courses including Calculus and Physics supplement their first-year course loads. Through the support of our programming, our students generally perform 10-15 points higher than their counterparts.
The office also hosts a weekly Sunday dinner. During the dinner, the students receive a home-cooked meal and have a chance to network with students in all cohorts. The dinner provides a safe space for students who are often facing stereotype threat and implicit bias in their courses. In addition to fellowship and networking, the students also work in study groups and receive tutoring and academic support.
Monthly socials provide professional development opportunities for students. Students are visited by industry partners to discuss resume writing, interview tips, networking and etiquette. Many of our industry partners use this time to develop authentic relationships that feed into an informal mentoring network. We also use monthly social time for fellowship. Students have had socials highlighted by various activities including basketball and hockey games as well as riverboat rides.
In our presentation, we will discuss each program component, our measures of success which include self-efficacy, retention results and academic performance of our freshman cohort.
2:00 PM - *BI01.02.02
Professional Societies and African American Engineering Leaders—Paving Pathways and Empowering Legacies
Christine Grant1,Tonya Peeples2,Lynnette Madsen3
North Carolina State University1,The Pennsylvania State University2,National Science Foundation3Show Abstract
Diversity and inclusion in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields is a global issue. The challenging issues facing the world relating to STEM diversity cross national borders and require leveraging the talents of diverse constituents. Active international efforts at inclusive talent development are being undertaken to empower persons from groups historically underrepresented in STEM communities. The US National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering (NACME) reports that in the United States, African Americans are one of the most underrepresented minority groups in engineering relative to their population. This is in spite of the fact that there has been a great deal of progress in “growing African American scientists, engineers, and technologists since the Howard University School of Engineering opened in 1910.” The number of African Americans in engineering at all degree levels is not representative of their percentage in the US population.
In 2012, a workshop on “Ethnic Diversity in Materials Science and Engineering” was co-sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy (DOE), the MRS Foundation, North Carolina State University, and the University Materials Council (UMC). Comprised of Department Heads, Chairpersons, Directors, and group leaders from academic programs in the materials field in United States, Canadian, and Australian universities, UMC is a forum for sharing best practices related to materials science and engineering (MSE). Focusing on issues affecting recruitment and retention and long-term success in MSE, the workshop participants examined diversity data in MSE departments. According to the US National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, although African Americans make up 12.2% and Latinos 16.3% of the US population, they received only 2.5% and 5.3% of MSE degrees awarded in 2010, respectively. At the heart of the recommendations to increase retention, recruitment, and career success of ethnically diverse groups were topics with a focus on the following three groups: (a) Individuals, (b) Academic Leaders, and (c) Federal Agencies.
Our goal in this paper is to shift this conversation away from the dire message about the lack of African Americans in the field and focus on positive advancements, namely, the leadership of African Americans in engineering and the role of professional societies in their leadership development. Reflecting on the action plan for ethnic diversity in MSE and STEM, we posit that there is a constituency missing in these discussions, namely, professional societies. While it is critically important to recognize technical achievements and the early champions of change, it is also crucial to highlight the importance of professional societies, and challenge them to develop a greater level of authentic inclusion of African Americans in their organizations. Societies include, but are not limited to, those focused on: (1) advancing diversity and inclusion via empowerment, (2) developing underrepresented groups within specific disciplines, (3) originating and facilitating cross-disciplinary interactions, and (4) leading change in the realm of providing services, information, and tools for stakeholders to create a diverse workforce of engineers. Professional societies can play a pivotal role in the diversification of science and engineering profession and the authentic inclusion of engaged African Americans in the direction of science and engineering disciplines. We will discuss how the development of leaders across academia, industry and governmental entities benefits from the opportunities to grow, serve and eventually lead in student-led, career-enhancing, and paradigm-shifting organizations. This paper highlights the careers of several African American leaders in both industry and academia, including their experiential perspectives on the role of professional societies in their own leadership development.
3:00 PM - BI01.02.03
Implementable Group-Based Undergraduate Research Programs for First-Year STEM Students
Matthew Hauwiller1,Justin Ondry1,Anne Baranger1,Paul Alivisatos1
University of California, Berkeley1Show Abstract
Undergraduate research has numerous positive outcomes for the participating students ranging from improved performance in classes, higher self-identification as scientists, better graduation rates, and better retention of students from underrepresented demographics. By actively carrying out cutting-edge scientific research, students feel like scientific experts with the ability to tackle difficult problems, and this sense of belonging can be especially valuable for first generation and underrepresented students. Ideally, every first-year student at large research institutions would have the opportunity to be a part of the ground-breaking research happening on their campus; however, the current models of undergraduate research are often unable to provide that experience to first-year undergraduate students. Traditional apprenticeship research positions are designed for advanced undergraduate students who want to make a significant time commitment. Course-based undergraduate research experiences have many positive benefits but often lack the ability to replicate a true research experience. We developed a research group-based undergraduate research program for first-year undergraduate students. Our program allowed 20 students to pursue curiosity driven research using cutting edge data previously collected by our research group. This model is transferable to other research groups, departments, and universities, and the implementation of first-year research experiences would be a significant benefit to the educational experience of undergraduate students, especially for students from underrepresented backgrounds in STEM.
In this program, students were given unanalyzed videos of platinum nanocrystals moving, growing, and attaching in solution collected using a state-of-the-art electron microscope and then were able to investigate and analyze phenomena they found intriguing. We assumed the students had no previous research experience nor knowledge of our research area of nanomaterials, so we taught the background information necessary to complete their projects. After learning the fundamentals of the research area, the undergraduate students began brainstorming interesting questions about the data set they were provided. Students were able to test various hypotheses for how nanocrystals grow and interact and learn how to pivot from a failed idea to a more promising hypothesis. Finally, the students learned how to communicate their results in the form of an academic paper and a poster presentation. Going through the scientific process with a project that was scientifically relevant gave the undergraduate students valuable experience as well as a sense of accomplishment.
The immediate returns, both qualitative and quantitative, show the ability for programs like AGURP to make a difference in the education experience of all first-year STEM students. Roughly half of the applicants who came to the information session were women, and half of the admitted students were women. The students expressed a sense of ownership of their project at the poster session and were proud of their research achievements. Quantitatively, the students expressed significant gains in their self-identification of their research skills from the pre- and post-program surveys. For a program like AGURP to be sustainable, it needs to be positive for both the students and the research groups, and programs like AGURP can be mutually beneficial. The goal of developing a group-based research program is to build an implementable model for other universities, so every first-year undergraduate student aspiring to achieve a STEM degree can feel a sense of belonging through research and increase their persistence rate to graduation.
3:15 PM - BI01.02.04
Understanding the Impact of Design in High School Outreach Camps
Jessica Krogstad1,Kaitlin Tyler1,Nicole Johnson-Glauch1,Leon Dean1
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign1Show Abstract
Outreach camps are an effective route to increasing interest in STEM disciplines, especially for underrepresented groups. They are also common components in the broader impact plans for many early career researchers. However, there is very little basis for understanding which aspects of outreach camps lead to positive outcomes. This is due in large part to the difficulty in comparing existing camps both within specific STEM disciplines and across them. As a result, there is little science-based guidance for the development of effective outreach camp structure or content. We specifically target the process of design in this study. By comparing different methodologies for incorporating design thinking through a qualitative multi-case study across four engineering disciplines, we have begun to assess whether design can be used to positively affect outcomes of STEM outreach camps and provide guidance for outreach development.
3:30 PM - BI01.02.05
Engineering Change—Strategic Action to Achieve Diversity in Engineering
Stephanie Law1,Jenni Buckley1,Amy Trauth1,Rachel Davidson1
University of Delaware1Show Abstract
The underrepresentation of women and underrepresented minorities (URM, def. non-White, non-Asian) in the engineering pipeline can be attributed to a multitude of factors, including, but not limited to, insufficient preparation and barriers in recruiting into engineering programs at the K-12 level, low self-efficacy, lack of peer support, inadequate academic advising or faculty support, harmful stereotypes of particular groups that influence interactions in classrooms or in peer groups, and a chilly or unappealing climate. The numerous “leaks” in the pipeline along with the sheer variety of established causes lead many institutions, including our own, to take a scattershot and therefore marginally effective approach to promoting diversity and inclusion.
In this paper, we will demonstrate that the Engineering Design Process (EDP) provides an effective framework for goal-setting and developing targeted interventions to substantively advance diversity and inclusion at the undergraduate and graduate levels. We present this work in the form of a 3-year case study at our own institution, a mid-sized, research-focused, land grant university on the US East Coast with student demographics (gender, racial) that reflect national trends. Our EDP framework consists of three steps: (1) Defining the problem; (2) Developing multiple unique and viable concepts; and (3) Iteratively designing, implementing, and refining or abandoning interventions based on formative evaluations. We began in Phase 1 of EDP by defining the issue of diversity at our institution relative to other engineering programs nationally using publically available data on graduation and retention rates. To assess climate issues, we conducted in-depth focus groups of women, URMs, and majority undergraduate and graduate students; and we folded the common themes from these focus groups into annual surveys. These data were used to establish clear metrics and target values for gender and racial diversity across our graduate programs and within each undergraduate department.
Phase 2 of our EDP involved generating multiple unique and viable interventions that addressed the disparities in recruitment and retention identified in Phase 1. Both working groups engaged in a lengthy phases of divergent concept generation by conducting extensive literature reviews, familiarizing themselves with the educational and social psychology literature around diversity and inclusion in STEM, and benchmarking interventions from other institutions. Early concepts were organized using a novel tool that clusters interventions by area of impact (recruitment or retention) and “activation energy” (economic and political cost).
Phase 3 of the EDP, which is ongoing as of this publication, involves implementation and continuous, formative evaluation of interventions clustered into three Specific Aims: (1) Recruitment, (2) Retention; and (3) Cultural Change. At present, the undergraduate working group has operationalized approximately 80% of the specific interventions clustered in Aims 1 and 2 above and 30% in Aim 3. Based on evaluation data, 10% of the interventions have been discontinued, with an additional 20% being substantially modified based on early results. Both working groups are continuously reviewing admissions data to assess impact on recruitment and leveraging focus group and survey data to monitor student climate.
This case study represents the first explicit use of the Engineering Design Process (EDP) to develop a comprehensive plan to address diversity and inclusion at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Given how daunting diversity issues can sometimes appear, we have found that framing and addressing this issue like engineers and explicitly using the EDP has made the process of goal setting, intervention, and evaluation remarkably clear. The overall process and specific tools presented in this case study may be easily extended to other institutions.
3:45 PM - *BI01.02.06
Diversifying the Next Gen Engineering Grads—Increasing URES of Color Persistence to Degree Completion
University of California, Los Angeles1Show Abstract
A salient national science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education challenge is how to address the contradiction presented by the increasing growth of underrepresented college-age students that does not present commensurate increases in their numbers in engineering schools. In California, the nation’s most populous state, 56% of its 6.3 million K-12 students are students of color (African Americans, Latinos and American Indian), yet over the last 15 years their enrollment in University of California’s (UC) ten engineering schools has averaged only 12%. This “underrepresented student majority” as a group, is the least represented ethnicity in the UC engineering schools. Equally troubling and more critical to the nation is the output side of this dilemma. The nation’s underrepresented engineering students of color—hereafter known as (URES)—do not earn engineering degrees that reflect their representation in engineering freshmen cohorts nor mirror their known talents.
The persistent few who are admitted to engineering schools—many underrepresented by ethnic culture, neighborhood, low-income and first-generation college status—are enveloped by academic, social/institutional barriers and personal circumstances that result in a national retention to graduation rate of only 40%, as compared to 60% for all engineering students who obtain a degree within 6 six years. Recent studies by the American Society of Engineering Educators determined that the 6-year graduation rate of Asian American engineering students was 66.5%, Caucasian 59.7%, Hispanics 44.4%, Native Americans 38.6%, African Americans 38.3%, and Females 61%. . Essentially, 60% of the nation’s URES freshmen cohorts do not graduate in engineering. This has been the case for forty years since the historic ignition of the minority engineering effort in 1970 . A 2016 University of California (UC) retention data analysis on 12 engineering freshmen cohorts (2000-2011) across ten UC schools of engineering revealed that the underrepresented minority (URM) engineering student retention to the fourth year was 43% compared to 73% of all non-URM cohorts . Despite the highly competitive UC engineering admission standards, URES mean retention to degree of ~43% aligns equal to the national ASEE 40% outcome for freshmen URES. The National Science Board pointed out a key challenge: “Attrition is substantial in engineering, particularly in the first year of college.”
Research points to potent factors that combine with campus climate and institutional structure to undermine students of color aspirations and efforts to succeed. Bright, low income URES and most underrepresented STEM oriented students of color students tend to be educated in lower-performing middle high schools that usually provide less rigorous math/science instruction compared to White and Asian students (Chen, 2013). For example, many URES enter UCLA with 3.8 or greater GPA but comparatively much lower SAT Math I/II scores and fewer earn passing AP scores than Whites and Asians; these scores are a marker for AP access issues and/or less than high-quality STEM education curriculum and instruction. Rigorous high school math and science preparation is the strongest precollege predictor of persistence and degree attainment and has a profound influence on students’ early performance regardless of race or low income . Further and most noteworthy is the intensity of the first year university mathematics and science ‘gatekeeper’ courses is strongly associated with students leaving STEM majors, especially so students of color and females  Sixty percent (60%) URES attrition at the national level indicates consistent loss along the four year engineering and computer science course sequence. Investigation into the junctures where attrition occurs has provided insight for design of retention and program interventions .