Why is Diversity in Engineering So Hard to Achieve?

June 10, 2011

(ASCE member George Thomas mentors NSBE Student Members)

In recent months, as a representative of ASCE, I’ve participated in two National Academies briefings (one Congressional and the other for the Society of Women Engineers) regarding where the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) community stands with regard to successfully  engaging underrepresented minority talent in STEM fields.  The conversation at both of these briefings was urgent, pragmatic and to-the-point, streamlining the STEM issue and providing clear direction for thoughtful dialogue among ASCE members and our engineering community partners to assess how well we are engaging minority talent and whether we should be doing more.  The conversation settled into four basic themes:

•             First, get it out of your head that this is about race, ethnicity, and gender.  STEM diversity is about the U.S. being competitive overall and leveraging our “dramatically” changing demographics to our advantage.

•             Second, we find ourselves at a crossroads not because there is a lack of interest in STEM fields, (college admissions show many students entering with high hopes of STEM careers). We’ve gotten to this point because we lack success in developing talent at every level of postsecondary education. There is much collaborative work to be done in an education process that has been accountable for this “not so insurmountable” dilemma.

•             Third, while everyone has an opinion, there are some best practice-based solutions that we can all agree to, yet need to do so urgently, to take on some accountability and get this show on the road!

•             And finally, some focus needs to be on those who hold down STEM professions while we work on improving the future.  Retention is just as important as recruitment, if not more, if we are to succeed.

Over the next few months, my colleague Leslie Payne (Senior Manager for Pre-College Outreach) and I will dissect this issue using the “Rising Above the Gathering Storm” and “Expanding Underrepresented Minority Participation: America’s Science and Technology Talent at Crossroads” reports as the basis for discussions.

Please join in this thought provoking and insightful dialogue.  We want to learn from your perspective and gain advantage from your insights into this issue.  We hope that together we will be inspired as individuals and as a Society to take accountability for solving this urgent global competitiveness dilemma.

How do you think ASCE could act at a local level to encourage minority talent to enter the STEM fields?

Constance Thompson, Senior Manager, Diversity Programs

1 Comment
  • To George Thomas:

    I believe you are my good friend from Michigan State University and later got separated when I went in the Army during the Vietnam years. Retired in the Army in 1998 after 30 years.Got my BS from Univ of Mssouri-Rolla in ’73 and later MS Civil Engineering at Univ of Missouri-Columbia ’80

    My only dual track meet as a miler at Wyandotte Roosevelt HS, Michigan , that was beaten in my senior year at my HS home track by you

    I am in ASCE chapter in Anchorage ,AK and also in AECOM with Thomas.York@AECOM.com
    Married the same girl,Ann, from HS who graduated from UM in ’66, and 45 years later now with 2 boys, both engineers, and five grandchildren. We also have a condo in Richmond, Va where we stay about half the year with the grandkids.

    Please make contact and come up here for a summer vacation trip. Just fly into Anchorage and we will take care of you for a great visit.

    Finally found you. –Tom

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