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Minority Retention And Success In Engineering: Diversifying The Pipeline Through The Development Of Social Capital

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Graduate Student Experiences

Tagged Division

Graduate Studies

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.1072.1 - 12.1072.14



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Paper Authors


Anderson Prewitt University of Florida

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Anderson D. Prewitt is currently in the PhD program in Material Science & Engineering at the University of Florida, where he studies the electrical & magnetic properties of materials. His interests are in multidisciplinary engineering education and mentoring for student success in technical fields, where Anderson has experience in both areas. Anderson earned his Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from the Florida A&M University/Florida State University College of Engineering (2003), and his Master of Science in Electrical Engineering from the University of Central Florida (2005), where his specialization was Electromagnetics.

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Wanda Eugene Auburn University

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Wanda Eugene is a doctoral student in the Human Centered Computing Lab at Auburn University interested in how cultural, social, and personal surroundings affect the appropriation of computational artifacts and ideas and how they can serve as a resource for the design of new technologies. Wanda received a Bachelor's of Science in Electrical Engineering (2002) and a Master's in Industrial Engineering (2003) from the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical-Florida State University, and a Master's in Interdisciplinary Studies specializing in Instructional Technology and African American Studies (2006) from George Mason University.

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Shaundra Daily Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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Shaundra Bryant Daily is a doctoral candidate at the MIT Media Laboratory, working in the Affective Computing Group. Her main interests include the design of technological tools to enable reflection on attitudes, beliefs, and values. She holds a Bachelor (2001) and Master (2003) of Science in Electrical Engineering from the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical-Florida State University College of Engineering. She recently finished a Master of Science (2005) degree at the Media Laboratory where she designed and evaluated interfaces to support affective development through enhanced digital storytelling.

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Minority Retention and Success in Engineering: Diversifying the Pipeline through the Development of Social Capital Abstract

Diversity is a cornerstone to innovation in engineering problem solving. The retention and success of minorities in engineering is necessary for building diversity in academia and industry. The majority of engineering programs, however, suffer from a lack of minority students, particularly in graduate programs. A perceived individualistic and weed out culture of engineering, ethnic isolation, and a lack of interaction with faculty and the broader university are barriers which may inhibit minorities from matriculating through college and entering graduate studies. One mechanism for supporting minority students is the development of social capital which can help to eradicate these barriers. While universities have developed some programs and curricular opportunities to support minorities in engineering majors, student-run organizations are relatively untapped resources that can directly facilitate the development of social capital. Using survey and interview data from participants in a mentoring program of the National Society of Black Engineers, the authors demonstrate how student-run organizations can make the development of social capital a reality, and thus bolster the pipeline toward a diverse population of successful graduates for the workforce and academia.


Innovation is the key to the future success of the United States and engineers and scientists are large contributors to that success. In Friedman’s 2005 book The World is Flat, some of the key tenets are that perpetual innovation and adaptability are essential to the future success of the US economy and workforce10. Hargadon asserts that “innovation is driven by the convergence of diverse networks of people, objects, and ideas16. Similarly, research conducted by Crosby et al. indicates that a diverse workforce provides economic benefits because heterogeneous groupings bring different perspectives to bear on problems, thus helping to solve them creatively and effectively7. Based on these arguments it would seem that science and engineering, which are key factors for the innovation essential to US success, would benefit greatly from the diversity present in the current US population.

It is no secret, however, that engineering, along with science, technology, and mathematics, is suffering from “a diversity problem5”. Data collected by the Engineering Workforce Commission, on engineering graduates for 2001, 2000, and 1999 were combined to obtain a three year average and then compared with college freshman enrollment averaged over the years 1996, 1995, and 1994. Computing the ratio showed the graduation rates of African-Americans as 41.8%, Hispanic Americans as 64%, and Native Americans as 50.7%. All underrepresented minorities were lower than the 73.1% average of other U.S. students, but only African- Americans fell below 50%3. This amounts to only 4.88% of the engineering degrees awarded in the United States landing in the hands of Black students. This lack of undergraduate representation, however, is only a piece of the diversity puzzle. In 2005, African-Americans were awarded only 4.6% of the Masters degrees and only 3.7% of the doctoral degrees conferred in engineering in the US, down from 3.8% in 200412. In 2003, Black faculty at assistant professor

Prewitt, A., & Eugene, W., & Daily, S. (2007, June), Minority Retention And Success In Engineering: Diversifying The Pipeline Through The Development Of Social Capital Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--2374

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