This article focuses on two types of diversity: gender and race (particularly female and African American). Government census data suggests that 50% of the population are of the female gender and about 14% are African American in the State of Michigan. It is argued that this percentage of the population is similar to the decision-making population of those who are purchasing engineering and technology products (customers). Yet, most engineering and technology companies report their design engineers who are female or African American represent a much smaller ratio than those found in the general public. Companies and firms look for a diverse workforce but often discover how difficult it is to find such a qualified workforce in engineering and technology disciplines.
On the other hand, the American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE) publishes profiles of universities in engineering-related disciplines and includes data on enrolled students based on both gender and race (profiles.asee.org). The latest published data show that only 22% of enrolled students in engineering and technology disciplines in the State of Michigan are female. Of the 22% of these female students, only 4.5% are African American. The data also shows that 24% of the degrees awarded in these disciplines go to female students, and of that 24% only 3% go to African Americans. This suggests that a significant portion of African American students who start in engineering and technology programs either drop courses or change majors before they graduate.
The GameAbove College of Engineering and Technology (GACET) at Eastern Michigan University (EMU) recognizes this challenge. We have been focusing on attracting female and underrepresented students to engineering and technology disciplines. For this purpose, we developed several initiatives to recruit, retain, and graduate underrepresented students in various engineering and technology majors.
Every year, the Digital Divas program brings underrepresented middle and high school female students to the EMU campus in Ypsilanti, Michigan. This program is a one-day experience in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). This program allows girls to attend breakout sessions, and network with women from STEM organizations and the university, all while exploring a college campus. Breakout sessions consist of website building, pilot simulation, computer-aided design (CAD), programming a Raspberry Pi, and 3-D printing, Cybersecurity, among others. For the college women who volunteer for the program, it reassures their educational path. A similar program is offered for male students (Digital Dudes) that focuses on underserved students from urban and rural areas. These programs have brought over one thousand middle and high school students per year to campus since 2010.
Our partnering with the Engineering Society of Detroit to serve the “Girls in Engineering Academy” program is another initiative at the GameAbove College of Engineering and Technology at EMU that is dedicated to diversity. In this program, we host middle and high school female students who live on EMU’s campus for a four-week long residential summer camp. Here they attend various structured non-credit courses on relevant subjects such as robotics, biology, algebra, cybersecurity, CAD, 3D printing, computer science, and other subjects. EMU was the first university partner to host the program on a college campus. Both programs are generously funded through donations from local and regional organizations and individuals.
Deliberate efforts in providing mathematics and writing tutoring, especially for the first-year students, have been available to help students succeed and are paying off. Special funding has allowed the GACET to hire tutors exclusively for our students and have them located in our two main buildings. Students drop in during scheduled hours or can make an appointment for a more convenient time for them. Other efforts include providing generous scholarships to students, and having faculty mentor and help students outside of the classroom.
As shown here, these programs are yielding results. The American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE) shows an increase of African American students enrolled in the GameAbove College of Engineering and Technology, now 11% of all students in the College. This increase is the highest among all universities in the State of Michigan and much higher than the average reported by all universities in the State (4.5%). Our established programs to help students succeed in graduating with an engineering or technology degree are also yielding significant results. GACET reported a 10.5% percentage of African American graduates, also the highest in the State and among the highest in the Nation. The average percentage of African American graduating class in engineering and technology in Michigan Universities is less than 4%.
Our experiences show that targeted efforts for specific diverse populations will help recruit and retain more students in engineering and technology disciplines. In addition, proper engagement with (and funding from) local and regional organizations, industries, and government agencies coupled with university efforts have been the key to success. Partnering and working together for a common goal is pivotal in increasing the development of a diverse group of talented and skilled professionals in engineering and technology for Michigan employers. At GACET, we are committed to this goal.
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