Diversity Engineering

When asked to imagine what an engineer looks like, most everyone will envision a white non-disabled male. Indeed, women make up less that 20% of the undergraduate engineering students, a number inconsistent with their proportion in the broader undergraduate population (more than 50%). African American, Hispanic and Native American students earned less than 12% of engineering bachelor degrees, a percentage far below their proportion in the school-age population. Additionally, students with disabilities experience more barriers to academic success than their non-disabled peers. It’s no wonder people associate white non-disabled men with engineering.

Engineering and other STEM fields thrive on creativity, innovation, and persistence.  These fields need a broad array of perspectives and experiences to generate the most creative and innovation solutions.  More diversity in engineering will help generate more creativity and innovation. Indeed, as William A. Wulf, former president of the National Academy of Engineering, noted in his remarks at the 1999 Women in Engineering ProActive Network (WEPAN) conference, “[a]t a fundamental level, men, women, ethnic minorities, racial minorities, and people with handicaps, experience the world differently. Those differences of experiences are the ‘gene pool’ from which creativity springs.”  

To increase the numbers of women and minorities who persist in engineering, universities have a responsibility to create campus communities that welcome and support students from all backgrounds. Supportive peers and peer groups can contribute to campus climate, student aspirations and achievement, career choice, and lead to improved persistence for underrepresented students. Because of this, efforts to improve the climate for women, minority, and disabled students in academia should include peer-led educational opportunities. Thus, we have created PEERs.

To learn more about the information presented here, visit our Supplemental Readings page to find more in-depth studies and analyses.

This blurb was taken, in part, from our I3 proposal for PEERs. Contact us for additional information.