Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Summit to focus on fostering a diverse engineering work force in Michigan

For more information and to participate in the summit, go to www.engin.umich.edu/events/engineeringworkforcesummit/

U-M’s engineering program will best serve Michigan’s emerging knowledge-based economy by drawing a more diverse student population — and, therefore, the brightest creative thinkers and problem solvers, educators say.

To jump-start action toward that goal, an Oct. 13 summit — Assuring Michigan’s Knowledge-Based Workforce: A Summit on Diversity & Opportunity in K-16+ Engineering Education — will bring together stakeholders to talk frankly of what needs to happen to get more state students, particularly women and under-represented minorities, into engineering and related fields.

“We’re really hoping to get engagement, to get students faculty and staff involved, because there is a crisis here,” says summit organizer Robert Scott, Academic Multicultural Initiatives director and head of the Diversity and Outreach Council in the College of Engineering.

“The state of Michigan really does need to ratchet up the attractiveness of science, engineering and math. We’re very concerned this is not happening right now,” Scott says.

The summit opens with an 8:45 a.m. keynote address at Stamps Auditorium in the Walgreen Drama Center by Chuck Vest, president of the National Academy of Engineering, former Massachusetts Institute of Technology president, and former U-M provost and CoE dean.

“We’re going to follow that up with two panels. We’ll have deans from engineering colleges from across the state, recent graduates, and two K-12 superintendents,” Scott says. “They’ll talk about the current reality of today’s engineering education experience, then we’ll follow up with a panel of corporate officers. They’ll talk about the global engineer of the future, the product that engineering schools need to be produce.”

Summit sessions, sponsored by the CoE, will take place on North Campus.

“In the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan we have only 23 percent women and nine percent under-represented minority students. These numbers are good compared to many other engineering schools, but they are woefully low compared to what they should be,” says James Holloway, CoE associate dean and co-organizer of the summit. “We are failing to attract significant groups of bright and creative people into engineering school.”

Scott says one problem is that engineering traditionally has lower appeal for women than fields such as medicine, which is seen as more socially relevant. Further, engineers are perceived to work for large corporations, a turn-off for some students. “We haven’t created a lot of excitement for kids lately,” Scott says.

But he says the call for fresh engineering solutions to promote green technology could attract students to engineering as the space race did in the 1960s.

“That’s an opportunity area. Society is crying out for engineering solutions to sustaining the planet and continuing a high quality of life without putting us at risk, and finding ways to conserve energy, ways to live that is healthier for the planet,” Scott says. “I think if we could articulate those needs in compelling ways we could attract all kinds of engineers.”

He said summit attendees also will discuss ways to build on already active outreach programs with K-12 schools. They will explore ways to better retain women and under-represented minority engineering students at U-M.

“They have a graduation rate of just under 55 percent; it’s a little over 80 percent for majority students,” Scott says. “We need look to look at the climate and environment we have to teach students on campus so we retain them.”

After the summit, Scott says, the Diversity and Outreach Council will develop an action plan. “We will continue to work this going forward.”