Virginia Booth Womack
After 18 years in engineering and manufacturing, I am happy to be back at Purdue University working on an engineering opportunity that I am passionate about. It's an opportunity of student access and success.
One hundred fifty two years ago, President Abraham Lincoln signed legislature that opened the door to established land-grant universities across the United States. According to the Morrill Act of 1862, the mission of these institutions was to focus on the teaching of practical agriculture, science, military science, and engineering as a response to the industrial revolution and the changing social class. Justin Smith Morrill, a congressman from Vermont who introduced the act, was quoted to say: "This bill proposes to establish at least one college in every State upon a sure and perpetual foundation, accessible to all, but especially to the sons of toil, where all of needful science for the practical avocations of life shall be taught." The words "accessible to all" challenge every institution to achieve an inclusive academic environment where "all" have access and thrive. This quote captures the spirit of why the Minority Engineering Program (MEP) exists. As we celebrate our 40th anniversary, this report will give you a glimpse into the history of MEP and the legacy of student access and success.
On September 18, 1874, with six instructors and 29 students, Purdue University began its first class as a land grant institution. Twenty years later, in 1894 David Robert Lewis, from Greensburg, Indiana earned a B.S. in Civil Engineering and became the first African American graduate at Purdue. In 1974, President Arthur Hansen championed the cause of diversity and approved several initiatives, including the launch of the Minority Engineering Program to address low enrollment of underrepresented minorities (URMs) at Purdue. The goal was to increase URM interest in engineering through focused, results-driven efforts to align population demographics at Purdue with the State of Indiana.
Forty years later, thousands of URMs have graduated and more have been touched through outreach, recruitment, and retention efforts. Although there has been an overall increase in URM enrollment over the past five years, only 19 African American first-year engineering students enrolled in 2013. This is eight students less than the historic low of 27 African American students enrolled in 1974. Many are alarmed at this statistic, but there is more to the story. There were 146 African Americans admitted to first-year engineering in 2013, however only 19 chose to come to Purdue. Based on feedback, their choice was driven by more competitive scholarship offers from other institutions. In 2014, an increase in scholarships resulted in a 73% increase in accepted offers. The students that are being admitted into the College of Engineering are some of the best students in the nation and, as such, they are being pursued by some of the best engineering programs. In the absence of the financial support formerly available in the 70's and 80's, college affordability has become a major focus at Purdue.
The first-year engineering class of 2013 consisted of more than 1800 students. The demographic breakdown was 61% Caucasian, 20% International, 12% Asian American, 5% Hispanic, 1% African American and 1% was a combination of two or more races/Native American/Hawaiian/Pacific Islander. While URMs comprise 18.2% of the State of Indiana's population, the 7% representation in the College of Engineering gives clear meaning to the term 'underrepresented.' In a growing national demographic of URMs there is an urgency to understand and address the challenges of achieving student access and success.
Realizing that we have endless opportunities to improve this distribution, our investment to increase matriculation of qualified students through the K-12 pipeline and into first-year engineering must continue. Outreach programs, initially targeting students in the State of Indiana, now have a national footprint. Residential summer programs focus on SAT improvement for 9th, 10th, and 11th graders. Students must be prepared to gain entrance to college, cross the cultural divide, overcome social academic, and financial issues that might impede their progress and successfully graduate. Through MEP-specific and university-wide collaborative programs designed to improve student transition and retention, we are addressing these issues. The achievement gap between URM students and the total engineering cohort is closing. Since 2004, the first semester grade point average of URMs has increased by 50% and reached a record high of 3.2 in 2013. First-year engineering retention rates have increased from 63% to 83%. Graduation grade point averages and graduation rates are continuing to improve. And there is a strong upward trend in degrees awarded to URMs in the past five years.
Our mission is to increase student access, celebrate success as well as identify, understand, and close gaps between URM students and the total engineering cohort through focused problem solving techniques. Although much has been achieved, being better than the past is not good enough. Standing on the shoulders of Marion Williamson Blalock, who served as MEP director for more than 30 years, I am extremely proud to be a part of this great legacy. Marion's work established the Minority Engineering Program at Purdue as a national benchmark for student access and success. Our work today must raise the bar.
The words "accessible to all" call each of us to action as we celebrate our 40th anniversary. Growing our URM first year enrollment to over 150 students per cohort is one of our immediate goals. We believe we have untapped capability to do this through our current programs, new initiatives, alumni and friends. With continued growth in our supporter base, we will be able to reach and surpass this goal. Here's why: today, we have the capability to embody the intent of the Morrill Act. Since 1974 nearly 2700 URM engineering alumni have graduated from Purdue. We have been successful in growing our alumni support, but less than 3% participate in recurring gifts to MEP. Imagine the possibilities of what a greater alumni support base would do to improve access, success, and affordability for our K-12 initiatives, and our current and prospective students.
This report will highlight the people, history, and accomplishments of the Minority Engineering Program at Purdue. We would not be where we are today without the leaders, corporations, alumni parents, and students who understand the importance of our mission and strive to position us to achieve excellence. Whether you have given your time or a financial contribution, we thank you for your efforts in helping us best serve our students. We invite everyone to read more about the broad impact of the Minority Engineering Progam and look forward to working with current partners and forging new partnerships to fulfill our mission.
Boiler Up! (Hammer Down!)