Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Shortage of minorities in engineering

USA TODAY did an analysis a couple of months ago showing that engineering firms reject Hispanic and black applicants twice as much in comparison to the rest of applicants. Engineering firms claim that the pool of applicants lacks of diversity and that the issue is beyond their reach. As a recent engineering graduate, I witnessed clearly that the amount of minorities in engineering are somewhat limited. But these claims are not sufficient. According to Fox News Latino more Hispanics are graduating college with bachelor’s degrees than ever before. As of 2014, Latinos accounted for 15% of STEM jobs (also known as Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), it doesn’t seem as much but just 4 years ago Latinos constituted 7% of the population.

It is evident that technology is increasing exponentially, and it will continue to grow as technology becomes one of the main engines that drive our current economic market. This will lead to more openings in tech firms and companies are being pressured to diversify their market. Thus, we need to look closely at the root of this phenomenon. First, a considerable amount of minorities do not continue their education due to the lack of information, resources or even motivation which eliminates a large amount of potential engineers, mathematicians, etc. Furthermore, a large amount of minorities attends college but fails to finish their education. To exemplify this, the graph bellow shows a bar graphs portraying the percent of the population that finish high school, attend and finish college. In light brown we see that out of 19% of 18-24 year olds that are enrolled in college only 9% actually finishes their career (that is a 47% drop out rate) which is daunting.

There are many factors that contribute to this big dropout rate. Many of the young minorities have to work full time to sustain themselves while they attend college by working on fast food restaurant, clothing stores etc. Others get demotivated due to their minimal mentoring and orientation in earlier stages of their educational career leading to picking up vices and activities that could hinder their development.  There are many other factors but we will leave that to another discussion.

On the STEM side, this gets even more filtered because even fewer choose to pursue a degree in a STEM related fields. A study by the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering, Inc. on U.S. engineering degrees found that African-Americans, American Indians, and Latinos account for 34 percent of the total U.S. population (ages 18 to 24), but earn only 12 percent of all undergraduate degrees in engineering. In fact, the share of engineering degrees earned by these three groups declines at higher educational levels: 12 percent bachelor's, 7 percent master's, and 3 percent doctorates. Meanwhile, women account for nearly half—46 percent—of the U.S. labor force but account for just 10.8 percent of U.S. engineers. This is a big issue because in order to remain competitive with the rest of the world we need to push for a progression of our education system and with that STEM related courses.

Consequently, one may argue that the shortage of engineers is due to the weak foundations that high schoolers receive as part of their basic education package. And yes, in part the government is responsible because of the lack of organization and the current curriculums in place despite the recent efforts of the commander in chief to include a higher load in STEM classes to prepare students in the near future. But also part of the problem could come from a lack of access. Data from the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights showed African-American and Latino students are much less likely to have access to Advanced Placement courses in STEM fields. Many students also say they don't take AP courses due to a lack of confidence. 

The lack of diversity (and woman) in STEM jobs is evident but the complexity of the issue doesn’t end with the government being the solely faulty entity. The ratio of minorities STEM will not change unless we make a change from early stages. Perhaps there is a racial component linked to it, African-American and Hispanic STEM workers aren’t just lacking in the U.S., they also make up a relatively small portion of the foreign-born students and professionals in STEM in the United States. Currently, 63% of foreign-born STEM workers come from Asia, with most from India or China. But why? Perhaps a lot has to do with the culture itself. As a recent minority graduate in engineering I hope we make a change in the near future.

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