According to the National Society for Black Engineers, in 2015, less than 1% of all U.S. engineering bachelor’s degrees were awarded to African American women.
One of the reasons for this lack of representation is the low rate at which Black people are enrolled and graduate in engineering courses in the U.S. The engineering program at IU is not an exception.
Only 8% of all U.S. engineering degrees are awarded to Black students, according to a report by the Association of Public Land-Grant Universities in 2018.
In 2016, the Luddy School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering added the intelligent systems engineering degree, and had its first class of graduating seniors last year. There were no Black students enrolled in this program.
The engineering program this year has 126 undergraduate students and only six of those are Black — three are female and three are male.
The racial disparities continue even in new emerging programs where decisions can be made to ensure minority communities are represented right from their starts.
Tiana Iruoje, director for student engagement and Success at the Luddy School, said the cause of the low number of Black students could be due to its recruiting process.
“It is all about recruiting,” Iruoje said, “I once was part of the recruiting process for the engineering program and they only sent us to Atlanta and Texas and that is not where the biggest Black population is. If you want more black students then the recruiters should put more efforts into educating Black communities about the program.”
According to the Luddy School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering 2018-19 Annual Report, Black and Native Americans students are the most underrepresented groups in the Luddy School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering.
Senior Xandria McDowell is one of the three female students in the engineering program at the Luddy School and said her journey in the program is lonely.
“I had trouble with feeling confident for the first years because I was the only Black student in my classes and on top of that was never taught by any Black professor,” McDowell said “It is intimidating but you get used to it.”
McDowell also said Luddy needs to put more effort into recruiting Black students.
“I would have never known about all these different different careers in STEM if not for being in Luddy,” McDowell said.“Many other black students out there don’t get to see people like them in these careers and they never know about them. So there needs to be more efforts in educating black students about careers in engineering if they are going to join”
Natalie Edwards, director of undergraduate recruitment at the Luddy School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering, said Because the engineering program is new it is hard to compete with schools such as Purdue with an older and more established engineering program, but the school has plans to increase diversity.
“We are aware that we could work more with programs like the First Robotics programs which sometimes have all female groups competing in robotics competitions in different parts of the country,” Edwards said. “The majority of our students come from Indiana and we partner with college fairs in Chicago and Indianapolis.”
There is potential for racial equality in the engineering program at IU specifically because it is new and decisions can be made right now to make sure the current gap in racial disparity does not widen in the next few years.