Engineering fields are very popular among new college students. Many of them enroll in STEM programs across the world but do not graduate. They either drop out or change majors. While doing my research on this topic, some of the reasons for drop out listed in student surveys are (references 1,2 and 3) –
Lack of self-confidence
Too much work
No longer believe in succeeding in engineering
Engineering major not matching the interest
Poor science/engineering knowledge in high schools
Poor background and debt in student loans (do not have enough money to finish 4-year education)
Higher drop out rate in Latin and black students as compared to white peers.
Researchers at Iowa State University did a thorough literature review of the 50 different studies focusing on low retention rates for engineering majors (reference 3). The researchers talk about the reasons behind students transferring to other majors from engineering. One cannot stop someone from leaving if they are not interested but partly is due to the failure of educators in making fresh college students believe that engineering, scientific and mathematical principles are within the reach of their abilities. I totally believe in that conclusion. I know of many friends who left engineering because they lost interest due to the bad professor teaching in the early days of college. Let us also talk about the amount of loss in terms of money for the individual who drops out without graduation. According to the study, assuming a 30-year working life, leaving engineering might cost an individual student on the order of one half-million-dollar over the course of their career. This also means millions of dollars of tuition fee loss to the college per year.
Now let’s talk about some ways to increase the retention rates. There are some of the curricular level, co-curricular level and extra-curricular level. Providing a better classroom and research atmosphere can definitely increase retention rates. Some of the curricular avenues that can help include first-year seminars focusing on real-life engineering problems. Guest lectures from renowned engineers can definitely motivate new students. Group projects and lab projects can help students relate to the practical side of engineering. Social projects in the field of civil engineering like building bridges in remote locations with the help of local people can also help.
Co-curricular activities like engineering internships, summer exchange programs, and student-faculty interactions also boost the morale of the students. They not only increase engineering knowledge but also helps grow your networking circle. For example, I decided to continue structural engineering after my first internship. It was then when I realized that civil engineering is fun and the things we do have a direct impact on people. At last, extra-curricular activities like participation in student organizations and cultural clubs also relives some heat off. I am a civil engineer but was always fascinated by robots and mechanical engineering. That desire made me join the robotics club during my undergrad. An engineer in my eye is someone who has basic knowledge of all types of engineering. And with time and experience, one does acquire that. All you have to do is stick around if you are interested.
I have taken a couple of courses before where we had discussed many issues about diversity and inclusion but I was not aware of this term before. The term was coined by black scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw. The concept is based on the fact that the overlapping nature of different identities like race, color, class or gender can lead to more disadvantages or discrimination for an individual as compared to individual identities. The coin was termed thinking about the discrimination faced by Black women and how it was different as compared to the plight faced by only black men or only white women. This video also explains the term with different examples.
Impact on schools and the steps ahead
According to some surveys and findings (1), students of color located in poor localities are more likely to get incomplete and poor coursework. Similarly, as per a study, only two percent of White girls were subjected to exclusionary suspensions compared to 12 percent of Black girls (2). Students of color who identify as LGBTQ face more victimization as compared to white students. There are so many facts in favor of the negative impact of intersectionality on school students. The question is how can we stop it? How can a teacher be taught to not be biased? Intersectionality issues cannot be looked at from 2 different angles. For example, Ms Crenshaw mentions that Harvard came up with 2 different committees (one for women and one for black) to increase the admission rate of black women. This is the wrong way of looking at things. There needs to be a better enactment of policies regarding intersectionality in schools. If there are biased policies, they need to be changed or replaced and educators need to realize this.
For Christina Torres, who teaches seventh- and ninth-grade English at the University Laboratory School in Honolulu, Hawai’i, knows that students talk about race, gender and other identity layers outside of class and feel that it is her responsibility to let them bring up these topics in class. (3) Torres says. “A woman who is Latina in L.A. is going to have a very different experience from someone who’s in the middle of Arkansas. The place matters, too.” It is really important for all teachers to think like Torres. I believe this not only makes the students understand their multiple identities but also empowers them to believe that everybody is different and this infact needs to be respected.
Statistics on gender and racial diversity show that women and minority representation are low in structural civil engineering (reference 1 and 2). These stats include representation in engineering firms, state licensure boards, professional organizations, and universities. The percentage of women in structural engineering in universities is the highest among all the four areas (~25%). This number drops to 15% for the firms, licensure boards, and organizations. Similarly, minority groups account for 10% (Hispanic), 3% (African American) and <1% (Native American) in the universities. Women tend to acquire lesser positions of leadership in structural engineering firms and universities. Minority males do face some disparity in pay range but it is still better than women. It was also found that women leave jobs in between due to lack of work satisfaction and lack of flexible work schedules.
I personally think part of the problem is the biased behavior of males towards females during interviews, presentations, promotions, and teamwork. I know of so many instances where people have mentioned that women are not good at engineering. I believe, attitude is a big problem here. And it gets intensified by social and cultural bias/stereotypes. I think there should be more awareness programs. By no means does being a woman or being from a minority group make one less competent, smart or intelligent. Proper development and mentoring from early-career can lead to many great women and minority leaders in the coming time. I personally have not seen many women HODs in civil engineering. This is sad but the truth. Nowadays, civil faculty in the leading U.S. universities do have a good balance in terms of race and gender. But we have a long way to go. More steps need to be taken in this direction. A diverse workplace makes the job more competitive, innovative, productive and definitely adds to the experience.
Diversity in Structural Engineering Profession – https://www.structuremag.org/?p=7042
Gender and Racial Diversity in the Structural Engineering Profession – https://static1.squarespace.com/static/55cba7dbe4b07ca3d73c39af/t/55ce4e24e4b06c2348a5dab6/1439583780768/GenderDiversityDraft_FINAL_Rev_v1.pdf