TECAID (Transforming Engineering Culture to Advance Inclusion and Diversity) is an NSF-funded project to increase diversity in mechanical engineering programs. The project is led by principal investigators from WEPAN (Women in Engineering and Physics Action Network), ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineering) and Purdue. Our TECAID team is led by Professor Kendra Sharp and includes Associate Professor Brady Gibbons, Associate Professor Karl Haapala, Ellen Momsen, director, College of Engineering's Women and Minorities Engineering Program, and Professor and School Head Rob Stone.
Initiative Seeks to Balance Student Body
Long before an Oregon State University student is conferred an engineering degree, a noticeable dichotomy between the number of women and men seeking these diplomas occurs. For the 2013-14 incoming class to the School of Mechanical, Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering, about eight percent of the student body was comprised of women. At the graduate level that same year almost 11 percent of the incoming class were women.
Among those identifying as underrepresented racial or ethnic minorities lies another disparity. The 2013-14 undergraduate incoming class had almost 16 percent of its total students identifying as African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, Alaska Natives, or Pacific Islanders. At the graduate level, less than 9 percent claimed this distinction.
The numbers for the 2015-16 incoming class are not showing signs of “drought relief.” For example, of nearly 2,000 incoming MIME undergraduate engineering students, roughly ten percent are women. Though these numbers do not yet illustrate the commitment the School of MIME holds to diversity and inclusion, it is our hope that they soon will reflect our efforts.
A solution usually best begins with an acknowledgement of the problem. “Our school recognizes the importance of advancing inclusion and diversity in engineering disciplines, and we are concerned about the relatively low enrollments of underrepresented groups in our programs,” said Professor and School Head Rob Stone.
To that end, School of MIME applied to participate in TECAID (Transforming Engineering Culture to Advance Inclusion and Diversity) – an NSF-funded project to increase diversity in mechanical engineering programs. The program is led by principal investigators from WEPAN (Women in Engineering and Physics Action Network), ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineering) and Purdue. School of MIME is one of just five other universities selected to join the project.
School of MIME’s TECAID team is led by Professor Kendra Sharp and includes Associate Professor Brady Gibbons, Assistant Professor Karl Haapala, Ellen Momsen, director of Women and Minorities in Engineering at the College of Engineering, and Stone.
Stone has supported the efforts of key faculty members who have a track record of creating experiential learning that seems to break the statistical barrier, and attract higher percentages of women and underrepresented groups.
For example, MIME’s TECAID team has selected as its "change project" – e.g., a specific undertaking that is expected to contribute to a higher rate of diversity in engineering – to measure and evaluate the ongoing efforts of Profs. Stone and Sharp to launch a humanitarian engineering program at Oregon State.
“After reviewing more than fifteen years of efforts to improve recruitment and retention of a more diverse student and faculty demographic, humanitarian engineering is by far one of – if not singularly the most – effective opportunity our team members have seen,” said Stone.
Consider the following indicators:
- Membership in Oregon State’s Engineers Without Borders chapter is approximately 75 percent female with many women in EWB-OSU leadership roles.
- Forty percent of the women who applied to the mechanical engineering graduate program for fall 2015 indicated an interest in humanitarian engineering, as contrasted with 12 percent of the males.
- Several of MIME’s top female mechanical engineering graduate applicants in 2014 and 2015 either applied to OSU or accepted because of their interest in our Peace Corps Master’s International Program in Mechanical Engineering.
- A new course offering, “Engineering Design in Emergency and Low- Resource Environments,” attracted a student body comprised of 70 percent women, when in a typical mechanical engineering course women are outnumbered ten to one.
Humanitarian engineering directly addresses a number of aspects of diversity and inclusion, including: improving diversity in student/faculty recruitment and increasing student retention; the development and inclusion of curricular material intended to increase student empathy and understanding of the impact of difference; and development of a structure for implementing effective cross-cultural service.
At the university-level, Oregon State has recently been awarded an ADVANCE grant that focuses on advancing inclusion and diversity at the faculty and higher level, this ADVANCE grant includes extensive training in difference, power and discrimination for administrators and faculty in STEM disciplines.
In additional to leading TECAID, Sharp also is the official College of Engineering liaison for OSU’s ADVANCE grant, demonstrating both a commitment to ongoing organizational change for inclusion and diversity, and also an ability to contextualize learning supported by the TECAID program to a larger institutional structure.
A fully inclusive engineering program is one that is welcoming to a diverse community of learners and educators, and where all individuals are aware of both the challenges and obligations that come with being a part of this diverse community. School of MIME aims to report back soon on its progress.