June 24, 2017
June 24, 2017
June 28, 2017
Minorities in Engineering
The under-representation of women and racial minorities in the undergraduate engineering population is a persistent and complex issue. Taking a wide lens, this lack of diversity can be attributed to a variety of causes, including but not limited to cultural bias, lack of exposure or access, few role models, and general lack of interest in the discipline due to yet another range of factors like decontextualized instruction in core STEM courses and a perceived lack of societal impact relative to other disciplines. The numerous “leaks” in the pipeline, along with the shear variety of established causes, lead many institutions, including our own, to take a scattershot approach to diversity in the undergraduate engineering population. Through a patchwork of federal, state, and internal support, post-secondary engineering programs simultaneously offer intra and extra-curricular K12 programming, college admissions scholarships, “gold shirt” programs, and wrap-around mentoring and academic support. While many of these programs have proven to be effective in recruiting and/or retaining under-represented students into engineering, they are often implemented with little consideration to the scale or efficiency needed to achieve institution-level goals for undergraduate diversity, which assumes that such goals have even been clearly articulated in the first place.
In this paper, we propose and demonstrate that the Engineering Design Process (EDP) provides an effective framework for goal-setting and developing targeted interventions to substantively advance undergraduate diversity at the institutional level. We utilized a 4-phase EDP, which involved: (1) Defining the problem; (2) Developing multiple unique and viable concepts; (3) Implementing one or more of these concepts as a final design solution(s); and (4) Continuously evaluating and refining the design(s). We used our own institution as a case study (a mid-sized, research-focused, land grant university on the US East Coast), and we limited the scope of the diversity issue to female and under-represented racial groups (URGs; def. non-white and non-Asian).
We began in Phase 1 of EDP by defining the issue of diversity at our institution relative to other engineering programs nationally. We considered 5 years of historical data (2011-2015) for all undergraduate engineering majors at our institution. This included annual enrollment and graduation numbers, as well as year-by-year retention for a single enrollment cohort, broken down by gender (female) and race (URGs). These data for recruitment and retention were compared, by engineering major, to 2015 national trends available through a comprehensive, publically-accessible database (ASEE Engineering Data Management System) as well as a published report on best practices in student retention (ASEE Going the Distance, 2012). Based on these data, we established a clear goal of each engineering major at our institution meeting or exceeding the gender and racial diversity percentages for graduation cohorts at the 75th percentile nationally.
This well-defined goal is allowing us, in our currently underway Phases 2-4 of the EDP, to develop and advance discipline-specific interventions centered around recruitment and/or retention of females and URGs. Although this work is very much still ongoing, we have achieved some level of success in these preliminary stages, with one department already reaching the 75th percentile nationally for gender diversity. Across all disciplines, administrative and faculty buy-in is being achieved by providing specific information and goals for enrollment and retention, while considering certain constraints such as overall class size and the limited depth of the applicant pool in certain disciplines. Given how daunting diversity issues can sometimes appear, we have found that framing and addressing this issue like engineers – that is, using the engineering design process – has made the process of goal setting, intervention, and evaluation remarkably clear; and it may be a model for other institutions to follow as they understand and address this complex issue.
Buckley, J., & Trauth, A., & Vaughan, M. L., & Bright, K. A., & Davidson, R. (2017, June), Engineering (verb) Diversity: Using the Engineering Design Process to Define and Intervene in the Issue of Undergraduate Diversity at the Institution Level Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--28247
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