Herff College of Engineering Student Diversity Tops National Average

December 10, 2019 - The science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) industry is traditionally one of the lesser diverse sectors in the economy. African American and Hispanic workers continue to be underrepresented in the STEM workforce. African Americans make up 11% of the U.S. workforce overall but only represent 9% of STEM workers, while Hispanics comprise 16% of the U.S. workforce but only 7% of all STEM workers. And among employed adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher, African Americans are just 7% and Hispanics are 6% of the STEM workforce.

However, in the Herff College of Engineering, underrepresented student enrollment is 42.9% higher than the national average. Further, the college has 30% African American/Hispanic/Pacific Islander/American Indian students, compared to 17% nationally. Women are also underrepresented in engineering nationally, another demographic the Herff College of Engineering is attempting to aggressively recruit.

“We are proud to have a diverse study body represented in the Herff College of Engineering so that these exceptional students can help to continue to further diversify the STEM workforce once they graduate from the UofM,” said Richard Sweigard, dean of the Herff College of Engineering.

Sweigard is the UofM’s principal investigator in the Tennessee Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Partnership (TLSAMP), which is funded by the National Science Foundation. The overall goal of the program is to assist universities and colleges in diversifying the nation’s STEM workforce by increasing the number of undergraduate and graduate degrees awarded to populations historically underrepresented in these disciplines.

The Herff College also has two active student chapters of national professional organizations — the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) and the University of Memphis Society of Women Engineers.

With more than 500 chapters and nearly 16,000 active members in the U.S. and abroad, the NSBE is one of the largest student-governed organizations based in the U.S. NSBE supports and promotes the aspirations of collegiate and pre-collegiate students and technical professionals in engineering and technology.

“NSBE has provided me with lasting friendships and connections at Herff as well as has built my professional network,” said David K. Oppong, graduate research assistant, past president of the NSBE chapter and current collegiate initiative chair of the professional NSBE. “Being a part of the organization has helped me live up to the mission of NSBE, which is to increase the number of culturally responsible engineers who excel academically, succeed professionally and positively impact the community.”

For more than six decades, the Society of Women Engineers has given women a unique place and voice within the engineering industry. The organization is centered around a passion for members’ success and continues to evolve with the challenges and opportunities reflected in today’s exciting engineering and technology specialties.

The UofM also promotes STEM learning and engagement for those younger than collegiate age. A middle and high school summer program called Girls Experiencing Engineering (GEE) is going into its 17th year. GEE, under the direction of Dr. Stephanie Ivey, associate dean for Research at the Herff College, is a fast-paced, interactive summer program  ­– structured in a series of one-week, 20-hour intensive sessions – that seeks to instill young women with confidence, interest and awareness of the wide array of career opportunities within science, technology and engineering fields.

GEE was recognized by Insight into Diversity magazine as one of 2018’s top Inspiring Programs in STEM, a national designation that recognizes colleges, universities and organizations for programs that are improving access to STEM fields for students from underrepresented groups.

“We feel it is important to promote diversity across STEM curriculums and in the industry as a whole,” Sweigard said. “Not only do we cultivate a diverse student population at the University, but we also want to engage younger students and demonstrate the benefits of an education in a STEM program.”