As a nation, we need to engage students of all genders, colors and backgrounds to increase our technological IQ and create a more robust economy. As a society, we can ill-afford the social consequences of economic disenfranchisement.
But African-Americans earn increasingly fewer engineering bachelor’s degrees. This trend started in 2000 after two decades of steady growth of blacks entering the engineering field. At the same time, we are seeing gains in the number of women in STEM — including women of color. While the raw number of African-American males in STEM may be increasing, the percentage is not keeping pace.
Attracting a diverse pool of talent into engineering (and to STEM more broadly) is essential to maintaining America’s position as a leader in technology innovation. With a homogenous set of individuals at the table, the set of possible solutions to societal problems is automatically and needlessly limited. A diverse set of ideas is necessary for innovation to work well.
In the world of atoms and numbers, does the ethnicity or gender of the person who studies them really matter? Many of America’s technology giants say yes. Intel has recently pledged $300 million to establish a diverse workforce. Merck has funded tens of millions of dollars in United Negro College Fund scholarships. Other technology giants such as Boeing, General Electric and Xerox all support organizations dedicated to raising the numbers of black STEM participants.
While interesting more African-American male students in STEM at an early age is a key component, enrolling in college is only half the battle. Note that of the 10,000 blacks, both males and females, who step onto college campuses every year with the intent to major in engineering, only about 3,000 make it to graduation.
At Georgia Tech, we are already leading the way in a number of initiatives related to broadening STEM participation. Tech is an institution that graduates more women and minority engineers than most other engineering schools. In fact, Georgia Tech graduates nearly 10 percent of all African-American Ph.D. engineers in the nation.
We do not need another report to tell us what we already know. What is needed is a real action agenda and commitment to change by individuals, academic institutions, industry and the federal government. As I have often said, we know how to solve this national crisis. All that is required are resources and the national will.