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Howard University Engineers Success

Article excerpt

Interdisciplinary study keeps Howard on the cutting edge

Less than three months before graduation, Howard University engineering student Artis Johnson is displaying signs of "senoritis." As he completes the course-work toward his bachelor's degree in systems and computer science, he can't keep his thoughts off of graduation day or that day sometime in the near future when he hopes to accept an offer for his first job after college.

Despite the accomplishments Johnson plans to achieve in the next few months, he still has taken time to map out a five-year plan - "I want to get a couple of years in the workplace and then return to Howard for an advanced (engineering) degree," he said.

Johnson's future plans likely will instill pride in the North Carolina native's family and in the faculty at the Howard University college of engineering, architecture and computer sciences. Over the past five years, the engineering disciplines within the college have experienced some surges in degrees conferred across its bachelor's, master's and doctoral engineering programs along with some dips in the number of African American students who have earned degrees in these programs.

According to Engineering Workforce Commission annual reports, in 1999 Howard University graduated 108 students, 92 of which were African American, in its chemical, civil, electrical, mechanical engineering programs, and computer science programs.

After two more years of graduating approximately 100 students across programs, in 2002, according to EWC, Howard conferred degrees to 204 graduates in the engineering disciplines - 128 to African American students.

In 2003, Howard, the only HBCU Research I institution, saw the number of engineering graduates slip to 152 students. That year the college conferred degrees to 81 African American students. But that year's group of 152 graduates also included 14 doctoral students, 11 of which were African American.

The dip in the number of African American students graduating from the engineering program between 2002 and 2003 has been related to the increasing SAT scores among students applying to the college, explains Dr. James H. Johnson Jr., dean of Howard University's college of engineering, architecture and computer sciences.

"Howard has been attracting good students," Johnson said. "The average SAT score for the class of 2003 was 1203."

In general, the students with higher test scores were more likely to obtain financial aid in the form of Howard University scholarships, Johnson said. College of engineering applicants who weren't top scorers among the college's pool of students accepted to the program during that time frame chose colleges and universities that were able to provide them with better financial aid packages, Johnson said.

"Some schools have thanked Howard for not being able to provide scholarships (to all engineering-bound applicants), because their programs have benefited," Johnson said.

HUSEM INCREASES PERCENTAGES

Johnson and other Howard University faculty credit the school's recent surge in the number of overall graduates to programs like the Howard University Science, Engineering and Mathematics program (HUSEM).

Instituted in 1999 with a grant from the National Science Foundation, HUSEM is designed to recruit and retain students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, said Dr. Lorraine Fleming, a professor of civil engineering and director of HUSEM. It recently began a focus on identifying "Ph.D.-bound" students and helping them go the distance, Fleming added.

The program also links undergraduate students to opportunities to work with faculty research projects, and offers tutoring in "gatekeeper" courses, such as calculus and chemistry, and "bottleneck" courses, such as dynamics, to help retain students in the disciplines. HUSEM also provides students mentoring from faculty, upperclassmen and alumni and the opportunity to network with engineering professionals. …