To support and encourage underrepresented minorities in the educational, professional and even social aspects of studying advanced engineering and technology, the Lee College of Engineering has a new program called Engage ME. The name stands for ‘Engage Multicultural Engineers,’ and the program brings together students, faculty, professionals and alumni of all races, cultures and genders.
“Engage ME is a student-focused effort,” said Sherman Mumford, freshman lecturer/advisor and associate director of Engage ME. “It is designed to help students recognize that college involves both social life and academic life, and that they lead towards professional life. We’re trying to help them succeed in all three aspects.”
Goals of the Engage ME program include improving the recruitment, retention and graduation of underrepresented minorities. Currently, the Lee College of Engineering undergraduate class is made up of 14 percent female, six percent African American and nine percent Hispanic students.
“Engage ME is important at the recruitment level,” Mumford said, “because students and parents want to know there is a program in place to support minority students. At recruiting events it has made a huge difference to be able to say ‘Yes, we do have a program.’”
The recruitment efforts have led to the “I am an Engineer” marketing campaign. The campaign includes posters, postcard and social media posts featuring photos of male and female engineering and technology students of all colors, and the statement “I am an engineer.”
“We want to show that engineers, engineering technologists and construction managers are multicultural and come from a wide range of backgrounds" Mumford said. “It is important for our young people, especially women and students of color, to envision themselves in engineering and other STEM professions. We want potential students to look at the posters and say to themselves, "Hey they look like me. I can do that too."
To help with the retention and graduation of multicultural students, Engage ME has held a number of events with the University Career Center, the Center for Academic Excellence, during the Week of Welcome and during other campus diversity conferences. The program is also helping minorities make connections with existing student support programs, and with student societies such as the National Society of Black Engineers, the Society of Women Engineers, and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers.
Engage ME has the participation of professionals outside of the college, in the form of its advisory board. Board members are from companies including Bank of America, Corning, Sealed Air, Wells Fargo, NAVAIR, and the City of Charlotte.
“The companies want to hire minority engineers, so they want them to succeed in college, and they want to help them do that,” said Chris McDaniel, freshman lecturer/advisor and director for Engage ME. “They are helping us focus on the professional side. At formal and informal events, they are helping the students interact with professionals, so they can learn from their experiences. And they have been very direct with the students, telling them they have will have to build professional respect during their careers. They will have to show they are good engineers, and they will have to be part of the change.”
For the 2018-19 academic year, Engage ME hopes to hold more events and have even more outreach thanks to a $5,000 grant from the Chancellor’s Diversity Fund. Other goals for the future include increasing the number of scholarships, and teaching and research assistantship positions for underrepresented minorities, so they can better focus on their studies instead of having to work off campus. The program is also hoping to get more alumni involved.
“We made a good start in the first year,” McDaniel said. “A lot of students don’t realize that balancing social life and professional life can help them on an academic level. But they do need all three to do their best in college. These elements can be very different for underrepresented minorities, so we’re trying to make sure they get all the support they can.”