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Black engineers group gathering in KC aims to boost number of grads in STEM fields

Karl Reid, executive director of the National Society of Black Engineers, is working to increase the enrollment, retention and success of black engineering students.
Karl Reid, executive director of the National Society of Black Engineers, is working to increase the enrollment, retention and success of black engineering students.

African-Americans make up only 5 percent of the U.S. science and engineering workforce and only 3.5 percent of engineering degree recipients. And that percentage has declined over the last decade.

According to a paper published last year by the National Society of Black Engineers, there are too few role models in the profession and insufficient access to high-quality science, technology, engineering and math learning experiences for African-American children.

“Only 57 percent of African-American high school students have access to the full complement of math and science in their high schools (algebra 1 through calculus; biology through physics), compared with 81 percent of Asian high school students and 71 percent of white students,” the report said.

Without those classes — and proficiency in them — it’s hard to envision a college major in engineering or a career.

Yet Karl Reid sees it happening for a lot more young people. Reid, executive director of the National Society of Black Engineers, is working to increase the enrollment, retention and success of black engineering students.

It’s a big focus of the NSBE convention this week, which is drawing about 10,000 educators, students and members of the engineering professions to the Kansas City Convention Center.

Currently, only 31 percent of black engineering majors earn their degrees within a six-year period, compared with 64 percent of whites, 52 percent of Latinos and 73 percent of Asians. Lack of money, rising debt and overall lack of support are considered factors.

Reid supports the NSBE goal of graduating 10,000 black engineering majors a year by 2025, a lofty aim that triples the current count. It’s using the hashtag #Be1of10K to help spread the word.

“It really isn’t an overwhelming challenge because we believe in a collective-impact approach,” Reid said, citing more than 290 programs and partners that are “building around a common cause with agreed-on metrics to measure success.”

Before getting to 2025, the organization set part-way goals to achieve by 2018. They include:

▪ Have 100,000 African-American students in seventh through 12th grades take a pledge to become engineers; increase by 1.5 times the number of eighth-graders who are proficient in math; and double the number of high school students who complete calculus.

In Kansas City, NSBE’s student outreach involves an organization called aSTEAM Village that works with students and their families.

▪ Expand the Summer Engineering Experience for Kids, a free three-week program for third- through sixth-graders that encourages math, science and engineering interests.

The organization this year will offer its first SEEK program in Kansas City. Details will be available on the NSBE/SEEK website.

▪ Expand the number of middle and high schools that participate in NSBE’s Pre-College Initiative, which helps sponsor participation in robotics competitions, renewable energy research, MathCounts and Try-Math-A-Lon competitions.

▪ Provide support for 1,000 incoming freshmen to attend a Summer Bridge Scholarship program at their college or university, and provide 550 scholarships at an average of $5,000 each to African-American STEM students.

Reid said immediate action includes public-policy advocacy, particularly for the Every Student Succeeds Act, which calls for increased access to STEM education for students who are underrepresented in STEM fields.

Meanwhile, he said, “We’re using social media and have launched #blackstemlikeme. We started it to coincide with Black History Month and the success of the ‘Hidden Figures’ movie. It allows us to promote our own ‘hidden figures’ and show role models through videos, blog posts and tweets from those in the field.”

Diane Stafford: 816-234-4359, @kcstarstafford

STEMI, which is based in Croatia, has created a learning kit for children ages 14 and up. The company's goal is to help get young people involved in science, technology, engineering and mathematics early in life.

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