NACME Symposium affirms early STEM education focus
Awards and a new databook highlight annual event
The National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering (NACME, White Plains, NY) was founded thirty-seven years ago. It has been a major conduit for minority college scholarship dollars in science, technology, engineering and math, the STEM subjects, from corporate and individual donors.
More than 22,000 students have received more than $124 million in scholarships and other support since the organization's programs started, and right now more than 1,300 NACME scholars attend fifty different schools across the country. NACME is also a source of information on minority participation in engineering education and careers.
The council holds an annual gathering each fall. This year's event was a symposium in St. Paul, MN, and it served as a follow up to a redirection of effort that began in 2008, says Dr Irving McPhail, NACME president and CEO. The redirection, "Connectivity 2015," commits NACME to "sustaining scholarship support for students at the undergrad and graduate levels, growing pre-engineering initiatives at middle school and community college levels, re-committing to research that informs the national debate on diversity with equity in STEM education and careers, and investing in national STEM policy initiatives designed to improve American competitiveness in STEM in a 'flat' world," McPhail says.
NACME has historically been a scholarship organization, McPhail notes. "But we recognized several years ago that was not sufficient. No matter how many millions of dollars we had available for scholarships, if students were arriving at twelfth grade not having taken calculus and physics, and without the prerequisite intellectual experiences that get them ready for freshman-year engineering, this became a kind of zero-sum game."
That realization led NACME to diversify its strategy, putting more focus on "pre-engineering:" STEM initiatives at the middle-school level, urban initiatives, and community college activities. "The issues around the pathway to engineering are absolutely critical, especially as people of color are becoming an increasing part of the American demographic," McPhail declares.
Revisiting the commitment
"Thinking of the focus for 2011, it occurred to me that it would be good to go back and revisit what really has happened in the years since Connectivity 2015. What are some examples of best practices and promising practices that were catalyzed by recommendations made by NACME in 2008? What have we learned as a consequence of that effort?" McPhail asks. "One thing we know is that a lot of our kids are never exposed to engineering. There's no engineer in the family and they've never met an engineer. We need to do a lot, particularly in the minority community, to build awareness about engineering as a realistic, viable, attainable career."
An entire day of the three-day event focused on pre-college STEM education.
One panel explored several successful collaborative efforts, including projects in North Carolina and Missouri. NACME, the National Academy Foundation (www.naf.org) and Project Lead the Way (PLTW, www.pltw.org) have worked together since the 2008-09 school year to set up "academies of engineering," a variety of schools-within-schools and free-standing programs that introduce students to engineering concepts and emphasize courses important for engineering readiness.
Another panel looked at programs designed to build awareness of engineering careers in K-12 schools. One example is the Gateway Academy, a week-long day camp for middle schoolers that is a project of PLTW and the Society of Manufacturing Engineers Education Foundation (www.smeef.org).
Several hundred Gateway Academies run each year in a variety of venues, with a number of co-sponsors and funding from industry partners.
A matter of survival
Support from corporate America is essential to all these efforts, McPhail emphasizes. "Corporations obviously recognize that their survival is increasingly dependent on their ability to develop engineering talent from the indigenous population in the U.S. Of course the corporations will continue to develop talent and import talent wherever it exists, but I think there is a recognition on the part of corporate STEM leaders that some effort has to be devoted to developing our own American talent base.
"We need rational immigration policy, we need rational vs emotional discussions about H-1B visas. At the same time, it is patently naïve to think that America will be able to stay on the cutting edge of STEM with all our leadership coming from scientists and engineers we bring in from China and India.
"We must have an equal level of effort in America to make certain that our students are moving into STEM."
Awards and recognition
The NACME board of directors includes many familiar names from the world of technology: 3M, AT&T, Bechtel, Boeing, BP, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Chevron, ConEdison, Deloitte & Touche, Dow, DuPont, EMC, Entergy, ExxonMobil, Ford, GE, HP, IBM, Intel, ITT, Johnson Controls, L-3 Communications, Lockheed Martin, Marathon Oil, Merck, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, Shell, UPS, Xerox Corporation and more, plus several universities and the National Academy of Engineering. Lead sponsor for the symposium was 3M; other sponsors were Chevron, ExxonMobil, Marathon Oil, Merck and Northrop Grumman.
George W. Buckley, chair, president and CEO of 3M, received the Reginald H. Jones Distinguished Service Award for his commitment to building a diverse engineering workforce at the company. "The pursuit of a career in engineering is not just about fulfilling dreams, but about something greater, something that can make our country stronger and our world better," he noted in his acceptance.
New data and analysis
The symposium also marked the release of NACME's 2011 databook, a comprehensive analysis of the most recent data on demographics and trends for underrepresented minorities in the engineering workforce. Available at no charge at www.nacme.org/user/docs/ 2011DataBook.pdf, the databook includes data on engineering degrees, enrollment and graduation, plus an analysis of the diversity of the current engineering workforce.
Highlights of the analysis:
• U.S. demand for engineers is strong. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a need for 178,300 more engineers in the next ten years. Fastest-growing fields are biomedical, civil, environmental, industrial and petroleum engineering.
• One-fourth of the U.S. workforce is African-American or Latino, but only 13 percent of engineers and engineering technicians belong to those groups.
• Only 5 percent of the engineering workforce is African American and 6 percent is Hispanic. Thirteen percent is female.
Additional panels and speakers at the symposium addressed the possible implementation of a national STEM workforce development policy, community college initiatives and ways to work with elected officials, educators and business leaders to increase support for STEM education programs. Speakers included Truman T. Bell, senior program officer of education and diversity for the ExxonMobil Foundation; Dr Cynthia R. McIntyre, SVP of the U.S. Council on Competitiveness; and Charles M. Vest, president of the National Academy of Engineering.
NACME organizes a variety of events during the year, and McPhail has testified at congressional hearings. He is a frequent speaker and author on STEM education topics.
For more information on NACME and its programs, see www.nacme.org.
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