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Minority Student Retention: The Importance Of Ethnicity Based Technical Organizations For Students At Majority Institutions

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1999 Annual Conference


Charlotte, North Carolina

Publication Date

June 20, 1999

Start Date

June 20, 1999

End Date

June 23, 1999



Page Count


Page Numbers

4.384.1 - 4.384.11

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Paper Authors

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Michael Lee

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Charles Sampson

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Ingrid St. Omer

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 2570

Minority Student Retention: Importance of Ethnicity Based Technical Organizations for Students at Majority Institutions

Ingrid St. Omer, Charles Sampson, Michael Lee University of Missouri-Columbia


It is widely accepted that one of the many institutional factors that negatively impact the retention of students of color is the scarcity of professional role models and minority faculty members. However, the significance of these relationships, particularly in traditional majority institutions, is vastly underestimated. According to the 1993 National Study of Postsecondary Faculty, African Americans made up only about 2.8% of full-time engineering instructional faculty and staff; Hispanics fared slightly better at 3.1% and American Indian/Alaskan Natives were less than one percent.1 Thus, within the engineering academic community, a relatively small number of minority faculty members are available at undergraduate institutions nationwide. This paper explores the institutional support of minority student interaction with ethnic professional societies for students at a predominantly white institution to help compensate for the scarcity of minority faculty and professional role models. Undergraduate and graduate students from the University of Missouri – Columbia received supplemental financial support for attendance at the annual conference of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) or the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE). Each participating student was required to prepare a report detailing his or her activities and impressions from this activity. The potential positive impact of such activities for students at majority institutions is evidenced by their responses and by their continued success in engineering.


The underrepresentation of students of color (i.e. African American, American Indian and Hispanic) in science, engineering and math has been the challenge of higher education for several decades. Recent legislative initiatives which would expand the immigration opportunities, and thereby increase the number of international professionals with engineering, computer or other high technology skills over the next few years, have served to underscore within the engineering community, the loss symbolized by this vast underutilized talent pool. Early initiatives designed to address recruitment, enrollment and degree production of underrepresented minority students have met more success in the former two than the latter.2

Any serious discussion of the factors that contribute to high attrition rates highlights a broad array of characteristics that are both student centered and institutional in nature. Given that approximately seventy percent of all underrepresented engineering students attend predominantly white institutions, ethnic isolation is a major institutional component.3 Faculty- student interaction or the lack thereof, is another well-established factor that often exacerbates a student’s sense of isolation. The scarcity of minority faculty, combined with limited exposure to

Lee, M., & Sampson, C., & St. Omer, I. (1999, June), Minority Student Retention: The Importance Of Ethnicity Based Technical Organizations For Students At Majority Institutions Paper presented at 1999 Annual Conference, Charlotte, North Carolina.

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