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Broadening Participation in Engineering (BPE)


Friday, April 10, 2015

The Broadening Participation in Engineering (BPE) Program is a Directorate-wide initiative dedicated to supporting the development of a diverse and well-prepared workforce of engineering graduates. The Broadening Participation in Engineering Program supports projects to engage and develop diverse teams that can offer unique perspectives and insights to challenges associated with increasing diversity in engineering research and education. In FY 2015, the Broadening Participation in Engineering program is supporting research on issues associated with diversity within the engineering professoriate, with a particular interest in funding proposals focusing on underrepresented racial and ethnic minorities.
The 2010 Census provides a snapshot of the demographics for United States citizens. Hispanic Americans are at 16% of the US population; African Americans constitute 13.6%, American Indians/Alaskan Natives represent 1.7%, and Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders are at 0.4%. In aggregate, racial/ethnic minorities make up 31.7% of the US population. According to data collected by the American Society for Engineering Education, in 2013, under-represented racial/ethnic minorities constitute 6.4% of all faculties, across all professional levels and all 345 engineering degree granting institutions. The diversity of engineering faculty ranks is significantly smaller particularly at advanced faculty ranks. Under-represented racial/ethnic minorities constitute 7.6% of all assistant professors, 7.8% of associate professors and 3.75% of full professors.
As shown, the status of under-represented ethnic/racial minority groups within various levels of faculty fall far short of their level of representation in the general population. In 2004, 5.7% of the engineering faculties were members of an under-represented group. While the increase to 6.4% in 2013 does indicate some progress, these numbers have changed only marginally in the last decade. More specifically, 408 engineering doctoral degrees were awarded to members of this target demographic in 2012, however the number of assistant professors only increased by 28 (from 411 to 439)[1]. The majority of those earning doctoral degrees are not becoming engineering faculty.
With the clear national focus and emphasis on the need to diversify our engineering workforce, it is critical to consider how to effect a comprehensive change in diversity within the academic ranks. Faculty are extremely important when considering the mentoring role they provide for engineering students. Faculty serve as role models for students and often take a lead role in advancing diversity both within their own ranks and in the undergraduate and graduate engineering student populations.
The Directorate for Engineering (ENG) recognizes that broadening participation is a systemic issue, with a need for wide-ranging and comprehensive interventions at all levels of the educational system. By approaching and analyzing problems in different ways a diverse workforce can encourage innovation and scientific breakthroughs. In alignment with the goals of ENG with other programs in the Division of Engineering Education and Centers, the BPE Program recognizes the importance of:
• understanding how a diverse engineering faculty impacts engineering education, innovation and productivity;
• the underlying issues affecting the differential participation rates in engineering degree attainment;
• the varied experiences and interactions that enhance or inhibit the persistence of different underrepresented groups to terminal degree and career interest in the professoriate.

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