While 30 percent of undergraduates are Latinos, African-Americans, or American Indians, these groups make up 12 percent of bachelor's degrees in engineering, NACME reports. They are projected to make up nearly 40 percent of college students by 2025, so preparation in younger grades needs to pick up pace, Mr. McPhail says.
Currently, only 4 percent of these minority students finish high school "engineering eligible," having passed requisite math and science courses. That lack of preparation shows up in the high rate at which students drop out of science majors in college, experts say. Many of them have trouble passing core courses.
NACME calls on educators, businesses, and government to tackle the challenges together. And for successful programs to continue, McPhail says, leaders in all three sectors need to stand up to the "anti-affirmative action movement."
The New York City College of Technology (City Tech) in Brooklyn has addressed these issues head on. As part of the Black Male Initiative (BMI) at the City University of New York (CUNY), it's working to recruit and retain more people in science, technology, and engineering. The program is open not only to African-American males, but to any student who wants mentoring and the possibility of partnering with professors on scientific research.
Participants are exposed to what it would take to earn a master's or PhD. "We have built this model around high expectations ... and [giving] attention to students individually," says Sonja Jackson, dean of curriculum and instruction.
The payoff, they hope, will be future engineers, scientists, and teachers who otherwise might not have considered such careers. Kurt Sealey, a City Tech student from Trinidad and Tobago, says he was only minimally interested in science until he had the chance to do research with Reginald Blake, a physicist and coordinator of BMI at City Tech. "I thought I couldn't do sciences," Mr. Sealey says. Now he's confident. Seeing African-American role models such as Mr. Blake is also helpful, he says, because it dispels the notion that "when you become a PhD, you wear bow ties and ... walk around with your nose in the air."