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Diversity Stalled: Explorations into the Stagnant Numbers of African American Engineering Faculty

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Building Pathways that Promote Pursuit/Persistence in Engineering

Tagged Division

Minorities in Engineering

Tagged Topic


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.555.1 - 26.555.17



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Paper Authors


Ebony Omotola McGee Vanderbilt University

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Ebony O. McGee is an Assistant Professor of Diversity and Urban Schooling at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College and a member of Scientific Careers Research and Development Group at Northwestern University. She received her Ph.D. in Mathematics Education from the University of Illinois at Chicago; and she was a National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow and a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow. As a former electrical engineer, she is concerned with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) learning and participation among historically marginalized students of color. Her research focuses on the role of racialized experiences and biases in STEM educational and career attainment, problematizing traditional notions of academic achievement and what is mean to be successful yet marginalized, and STEM identity and identity development in high-achieving students of color. She is currently the PI on two studies funded by NSF, the first of which investigates the causes behind why African Americans remain one of the most underrepresented racial groups in engineering faculty positions. The second study is working toward the design of a holistic racial and gender attentive mentoring program for engineering PhD students of color.

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William H. Robinson Vanderbilt University

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William H. Robinson received his B.S. in electrical engineering from the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) in 1996 and his M.S. in electrical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) in 1998. He received his Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering from Georgia Tech in 2003. In August 2003, Dr. Robinson joined the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) at Vanderbilt University as an Assistant Professor, and was promoted to Associate Professor in 2010. He is the first African American to earn promotion and win tenure in the Vanderbilt University School of Engineering. Currently, he serves as Associate Chair of the EECS Department. He also serves as the Director of Undergraduate Studies for both electrical engineering and computer engineering. Dr. Robinson leads the Security And Fault Tolerance (SAF-T) Research Group at Vanderbilt University, whose mission is to conduct transformational research that addresses the reliability and security of computing systems.

Dr. Robinson’s major honors include selection for a National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program Award and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Computer Science Study Panel, both in 2008. He received two awards from FAMU, a Young Alumni Award in 2010 and an Outstanding Alumni of the Quasquicentennial Award in 2012. Dr. Robinson is a Senior Member of both the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM); he has membership in the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE), and is a Lifetime Member of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE). Dr. Robinson is a Life Member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. and a member of The 100 Black Men of Middle Tennessee, Inc.

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Lydia C. Bentley Vanderbilt University

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Lydia C. Bentley, M.Ed., is a PhD student in the Development, Learning, and Diversity track of the Teaching and Learning Department at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College. Lydia has a bachelors’ degree in Sociology (Georgetown University) and a master’s degree in Special Education (The University of Virginia). She has worked on both qualitative and quantitative research projects spanning diverse topics such as revitalized neighborhoods and their schools, early childhood skill development, and the experiences of STEM graduate students.

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Stacey Houston II Vanderbilt University

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Stacey L. Houston, II is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Sociology at Vanderbilt University. Stacey is also the Chief Information Officer and Director of Special Projects for MADISON, Multicultural Education Solutions, LLC. He has experience with program evaluation and research design for schools and community based programs in the USA and abroad. Research projects he has worked on and contributed to include ability grouping, educational attainment, college major choice, and the African-American engineering graduate student and faculty experience. Stacey Houston received his B.A. in Sociology (Honors) at Davidson College (2013).

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Diversity Stalled: Explorations into the Stagnant Numbers of African American Engineering Faculty Abstract Faculty members serve as exemplars for the next generation of engineers, notonly in advancing the rapid changes in technology, but also in serving to advance theengineering capacities of future generations of multi-cultural, multi-racial studentengineers. A diverse engineering university faculty and workforce are necessary toachieve and maintain a country that is prosperous, secure, and attentive to thetechnological and social well-being of all individuals. Yet, data from the AmericanSociety for Engineering Education (ASEE) show that African Americans remain one ofthe most underrepresented racial groups in engineering faculty positions, comprising2.5% of all tenured/tenure-track engineering faculty for the past five years. This plateauhas existed despite intervention programs that aim to broaden the participation ofminorities in engineering. Our work examines the factors that impact the production ofAfrican American PhDs in engineering, as well as those factors that affect the pathway totenured faculty positions in engineering. The methodology of this study is guided by theliterature on racial and gender stereotypes, as well as Social Cognitive Career Theory(SCCT). SCCT focuses on the connection of self-efficacy, outcome expectations, andpersonal goals that influence an individual’s career choice. This study analyzes the pathway to academia by including analysis of a nationalsurvey of Black PhD engineering students, as well as focus group data collected fromthese students. We also have conducted interviews with Black engineering faculty. Thismixed methods approach enables us to collect and analyze multiple forms of data thathave the potential to shed light on the perspectives and decision-making of Blackengineering students and scholars. Descriptive and correlational statistical analyses willbe run on survey data about Black PhD and post-doctoral students’ perceptions pertainingto gender and race barriers, work-life balance, the role of their PI or advisors, theinfluences that impact their career decision-making, and other relevant matters.Qualitative data gathered from interviews with both students and faculty (and formerfaculty) will be analyzed and coded for themes. Early evidence shows that many Black engineering doctoral students havenegative perceptions of what it means to be an engineering faculty member. Based upontheir observations of pre-tenure engineering faculty, several students described theprocess of achieving tenure as similar to the process of completing a PhD all over again,which also has a negative connotation. An overwhelming majority of Black engineeringdoctoral students felt they had to expend extra energy to prove themselves to theiradvisors, professors, peers, and even to their mentors. While many students knew of oneor more Black engineering faculty members at their university, they expressed a desire tohave more frequent interactions with these faculty on a personal as well as professionallevel. Most of the students in this study said they would consider a tenure-track positionif there were a mentoring program that specifically focused on preparing them for acareer in the professoriate. Additional results for the full paper will include perspectivesfrom diversity program directors and from Black engineering faculty.

McGee, E. O., & Robinson, W. H., & Bentley, L. C., & Houston, S. (2015, June), Diversity Stalled: Explorations into the Stagnant Numbers of African American Engineering Faculty Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.23893

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2015 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015