Over the past decade, three rationales have emerged for emphasizing the reinforcement of the United States' science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) pipeline. The first rationale pertains to U.S. global competitiveness, the second revolves around the benefits of a diverse workforce, and the third argument points to social justice and inequity. Taking into consideration these three rationales, this study focuses on ways universities may bolster the success of African American engineers and computer scientists through a mixed methodological approach. First, I examine the experiences of 657 African American students who entered college with the intentions of majoring in engineering or computer science. I analyze data from the 2004 Freshman Survey (TFS) administered by UCLA's Higher Education Research Institute (HERI), which was matched with 5-year degree attainment data from the National Student Clearinghouse. I utilize a multinomial logistic regression to discern how individual and institutional factors differentially affect engineering and computer science baccalaureate degree attainment for African American students, who entered college with the intention of majoring in engineering or computer science.
The results indicate survey respondents (as compared to respondents who graduated with a degree in a non-STEM field) were more likely to complete a degree in engineering or computer science if they attended a private high school (13.6% more likely) or attended a Top 50 producer of African Americans with baccalaureate degrees in engineering (19.8% more likely). Additionally, a one grade category increase (i.e., from a B+ to an A-) in average high school grade garnered 7% increased likelihood of completing a degree in engineering or computer science.
Among students who completed a degree in science or mathematics, respondents were more likely not to switch to a non-STEM field if they attended an HBCU (7.5% more likely) or if they took four years of mathematics (as compared to those who took only three years) (5.9% more likely). Also, a one grade category increase (i.e., from a B+ to an A-) in average high school grade garnered a modest 1% increased likelihood of completing a degree in science or mathematics.
Next, I conducted case studies of two predominantly White public research universities characterized as Top 50 producers of African American baccalaureate degrees in engineering. I interviewed 70 individuals: 37 African American engineers/computer scientists, 9 engineering or computer science faculty members, 16 administrators, and 8 recent baccalaureate recipients. Through qualitative data analyses of the case studies, seven themes emerged as important factors in the academic careers of the successful African American participants, which include: 1. The role of Minority Engineering Programs (MEP) 2. The importance of outreach and pre-college programs 3. The role of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) 4. Successful students have challenges too and strategies for success 5. The role of same race versus different race faculty interactions 6. African American women's experiences in engineering and computer science 7. Post baccalaureate decisions: graduate school or industry. These findings provide examples of the multiple ways the two predominantly White public research universities support the success of the African American student participants. Also, the findings highlight the institutional agents, programmatic interventions, co-curricular involvement, and engagement opportunities, which contribute to the success of the 37 current students and the 8 recent alums.
Findings from this research study provide university administrators, policy makers, faculty, and scholars with a better understanding of the role universities play in motivating or inhibiting the success of African American engineers.