The nation’s engineering workforce should reflect the diversity of the global society it serves, said Michael Georgiopoulos, dean of the UCF College of Engineering & Computer Science, and it’s why he recently joined 135 other engineering deans in a national pledge to increase diversity among students.

The initiative – led by the American Society for Engineering Education – coincided with the first-ever White House Demo Day this month, where entrepreneurs from underrepresented groups met with the President and showcased their innovations. The initiative aligns with ASEE’s declaration that 2014-2015 is the Year of Action in Diversity.

“While gains have been made in the participation of women, African-Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans in engineering in recent decades, significant progress is still needed,” an ASEE letter states.

The 136 engineering deans signed the letter pledging four actions that promise to increase diversity among their students:

  • Develop a concrete diversity plan for their colleges, with input from national organizations such as the National Society of Black Engineers (among many others). The plan will include statements of vision, priorities and goals, a commitment to diversity training, and a definition of accountability.
  • Commit to at least one K-12 college pipeline activity with targeted goals and measures of accountability aimed at increasing the diversity and inclusiveness of the student body in their institutions.
  • Develop strong partnerships between research-intensive engineering schools and non-Ph.D.-granting engineering schools serving underrepresented populations.
  • Develop and implement proactive strategies to increase diversity among faculty.

UCF’s College of Engineering & Computer Science, with more than 9,000 students enrolled, has been working on the actions since 2011 when it established its Office of Diversity and Inclusion to create, deploy and update a Diversity and Action Plan for the college. The office, led by Fidelia Nnadi, associate professor, Department of Civil, Environmental and Construction Engineering, partners with the National Society of Black Engineers, the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers and the Society of Women Engineers.

The college also in 2011 established a K-12 college pipeline activity, “CampConnect.” The summer day camp specifically targets 8th, 9th and 10th graders from underrepresented groups, and introduces them to UCF’s engineering and computer science programs. The college also sponsors and hosts regional competitions for SECME, an alliance of schools, universities, industry and government to increase STEM diversity.

Upward Trend

A glance at the UCF College of Engineering & Computer Science’s data shows that diversity is increasing.

For example, in 2011, females represented 13.6 percent of the college’s total undergraduate enrollment. By 2014, the female percentage increased to 15.6. For Hispanic undergraduates, enrollment rose from 20.2 percent in 2011 to 23.8 percent in 2014. The percentage of African-American undergraduates also increased, from 7.3 percent in 2011 to 8 percent in 2014.

College faculty hires have also reflected increased diversity. Since July 2012 when Georgiopoulos became dean, 32 percent of new hires and replacement hires (22 tenure and tenure-track faculty) have been women and/or African-American.

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President Barack Obama’s Aug. 4 Remarks Regarding the Nation’s Engineering Deans’ Pledge to Increase Diversity (see video clip):

“More than 100 deans at America’s engineering schools are committing to recruit and retain more diverse student bodies, building the pipeline for the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs because this is something we are seeing again and again and again. We are not producing all the technical talent, all the engineers that we need. And part of the reason is because too many girls and too many young people of color are getting intimidated and winnowed out of the process, not being mentored, not being encouraged, and we deprive ourselves of the talent that we need in order for us to continue to be a dynamic, innovative economy — because that’s the part of the population that’s growing.”