Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Engineering Change

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Engineering Change

Article excerpt

From his parents' telling, Dr. Norman Fortenberry indicated he wanted to pursue engineering as his career by age 3. By all accounts, his plans worked out--he graduated from MIT with three degrees in mechanical engineering and is now the executive director of the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE).

ASEE is a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., with thousands of members in the United States and abroad. Since its founding in 1893, ASEE's goal has been to promote and improve engineering education, which continues to evolve as the field advances.

Prior to ASEE, Fortenberry worked at the National Academy of Engineering and the National Science Foundation, as well as the National Consortium for Graduate Degrees for Minorities in Engineering in Science.

Despite the startling advancements in technology and engineering that have occurred over the past century, there is one area in which engineering continues to falter: too few minorities and women enter and persist in the engineering field.

Yet, over the course of the next several decades, the U.S. population will become "majority minority." The Census Bureau projects that, by 2044, Whites will make up 49.7 percent of the population. A preview of this future will be available at the start of the school year this fall. According to Department of Education projections, public K-12 schools will be majority-minority.

For the future of engineering in the United States, this may have interesting implications. Certain minority groups--Hispanics, African-Americans and Native Americans--are highly underrepresented in engineering fields. The National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering (NACME) watches trends in this area, and its research shows that the numbers have not significantly improved, at least since 2012.

Fortenberry knows firsthand that being a minority studying engineering can be a somewhat lonely endeavor. At MIT, he became aware of race in a new way. At the two high schools in Missouri and Louisiana that he attended prior to college, he had Black and White friends without ever thinking too much of it. But upon arriving at MIT, he found himself grouped in with the other Black students there. "I don't recall making that a conscious choice," he says.

MIT was then in the midst of making a concerted effort to recruit more minority students. …

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