Minorities comprise one-third of the college-aged population, but earn a much smaller percentage of bachelors and advanced engineering degrees. Working to change that is Irving McPhail, president and chief executive officer of the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering. As part of our Be an Engineer campaign, I have asked Dr. McPhail to offer some thoughts on how he works to spark enthusiasm for engineering in young minority students. ~Ken
When my first grandson was born in 2007, I knew that I would do everything I could to make sure he becomes an engineer. I have given him Lego sets, model airplanes, and posters featuring examples of what engineers do. I have even gone as far as introducing him to some of the brightest minds in engineering, including several of our students supported by the Scholars Program at the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering (NACME).
I now have two grandsons and although the youngest is only a few months old, he is also going to be exposed to the endless possibilities in engineering and the other STEM fields.
So why engineering?
Just as ExxonMobil’s Be An Engineer campaign states, engineers are going to be the people who make the future possible. They will be the ones inventing the new cars. They will be cleaning our oceans, leading the charge in curing diseases, and bringing to life the things we once only imagined in comic books and sci-fi movies.
As the president and chief executive officer of NACME, I am exceedingly proud that in the past year, we have developed a comprehensive suite of materials (branded as “Engineer Something Amazing!”) that introduce engineering to middle and high school students.
Our vision at NACME is an engineering workforce that looks like America. This vision, however, cannot be realized if we do not start our young people on the pathway to science or engineering careers as early as possible.
Over the last 40 years, NACME, with the help of companies such as ExxonMobil, and the other global engineering and technology companies on the NACME Board of Directors, has been at the forefront of the effort to increase the number of underrepresented minorities (those who are African American, American Indian, and Latino) in these critical fields.
Today, underrepresented minorities make up 10 percent of the engineering workforce. That is up from merely 2 percent in 1974. And while we have made progress, that progress has been marginal. It is neither steady enough, nor substantial enough, for the representation of minorities to approach parity with their presence in the U.S. population.
The solution to America’s competitiveness problem is to activate the hidden workforce of young men and women who have traditionally been underrepresented in STEM careers.