Texas Southern increasing its engineering seats
Despite the engineering field's thirst for minority workers, many graduates of historically black Texas Southern University have ended up working for engineers, not as engineers. Benjamin Wermund, Higher Education Reporter, Houston Chronical has recently written this in his newspaper.
That made it clear to TSU officials that something wasn't right, leading to an overhaul of the university's engineering offerings. TSU is building on its outdated engineering technology program, which left many graduates underqualified, adding two new degrees: civil engineering and computer and technical engineering. The school is working to add petroleum engineering to the list, effectively tripling the number of options.
“The whole world is changing academically,” James Ward, interim provost and vice president of academic affairs, said. “Are you going to be a player in it, or are you going to stay behind? These two programs are major game-changers, because we're able to compete.”
Science, technology, engineering and math fields - commonly referred to as STEM - make up a growing portion of the American economy, yet the overwhelming majority of students working toward degrees in those fields are white. Just 4 percent of students who earned a bachelor's degree in engineering in 2011 were black, according to a study by the American Society for Engineering Education. Sixty-seven percent were white.
Top students sought : The new engineering programs are the latest in a push by TSU to boost its undergraduate offerings, especially in STEM fields, and to attract top-notch students. This year, the school offered a new airway sciences program, through which students can earn piloting credentials, and a few years ago it added a maritime transportation management program, giving students hands-on experience at the Houston Ship Channel.
The new programs also will focus on getting students experience at firms in Houston, potentially increasing their access to jobs after they graduate.
“The university should have upgraded these programs 15 years ago,” TSU President John Rudley said about the engineering programs. "We have students who deserve to have the same job opportunities in this job market as anybody else.”
The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board has rejected several previous efforts by TSU to upgrade engineering, said Lei Yu, dean of TSU's College of Science and Technology. Yu has been at TSU for 20 years and said the university has always had engineering programs in its sights.
Increased demand was likely a key factor in the difference in the state's opinion this time, said Rex Peebles, the board's assistant commissioner for academic quality and workforce. Peebles, who has been at the coordinating board a little less than a year, said he did not know why TSU was denied in the past.
“We always look at, is there sufficient student demand for these courses, is there sufficient workforce demand for these programs?” Peebles said. “Now that Texas is booming again, the demand is growing stronger.”
TSU officials hope their new engineering programs can help widen the pipeline to the STEM fields for minorities, who are underrepresented.
Closing STEM gap : Creating more opportunities might be more important in filling that gap than getting minority students interested, research has shown. A recent study by the American Psychological Association found that black women tend to be more interested than their white women peers in pursuing STEM degrees, but they are less likely to earn degrees in those fields. The study suggested the answer to closing the STEM gap might lie in breaking down the barriers to success.
Minority students often attend high schools with fewer advanced STEM courses typically needed to get accepted to tougher college programs. Many also come from families that can't afford to send their children to science camp or take them to museums.
College STEM programs tend to "weed out" lower-performing students rather than nurture their interest in the fields, which prematurely pushes out many minority students, said Andresse St. Rose, senior director of research and policy at the Center for Collaborative Education. But historically black colleges and universities like TSU have been better at helping students who might not be as prepared make it to graduation, she said.
Pathway to success: Historically black schools "are sometimes really successful, because they'll sometimes accept students who aren't as prepared, but they create a pathway to success in STEM," she said.
TSU's small class sizes and passionate professors have helped Aminata Dicko, a civil engineering technology major who plans to make the switch to civil engineering. Dicko said math and science were her favorite subjects growing up. Dicko took an introduction to engineering graphics course in high school, she said.
“I quickly became intrigued with the concept of drafting and design and decided that engineering was the right path for me, Dicko said. “Texas Southern University's faculty and staff have a special way of motivating students to excel. They work very hard to provide each and every one of us the tools and foundation that we need to succeed."