UConn looks to increase diversity in engineering

UConn is seeking new ways to involve more minorities in engineering on campus through community outreach days. (Jackson Haigis/The Daily Campus)

UConn is seeking new ways to involve more minorities in engineering on campus through community outreach days, including last Thursday’s Women in Engineering prospective student day.

“This really opened my eyes to how few women we currently have in engineering and how us girls are going to break the stereotype,” prospective student Kendra Hall said. “The program also really demonstrated what exactly UConn engineering is and the kinds of classes we would be taking.” 

The Women in Engineering Day was split into two sessions, with a panel of women professors and professionals holding a session in the morning and student tours of facilities in the afternoon. 

This collaborative event was held between the School of Engineering and the minority outreach groups on campus, such as Society of Women Engineers (SWE), National Society Black Engineers (NSB) and Women in Math Science and Engineering (WIMSE). 

“We did this event to show girls what a nice campus UConn is and that there is a huge support system here for people to get through (engineering),” seventh-semester material science engineering major and president of SWE Kathleen Coleman said. “What SWE and engineering is all about is showing that the stereotypes of an engineer are not accurate. Engineers are creative. We are working together to solve problems for a better tomorrow.”

In addition to the Women’s in Engineering prospective student day event, there are many outreach programs in existence to advocate for increased involvement from urban areas. There are programs set up through Engineering Ambassadors (EA) for all students, Multiple Your Options (MYO) for female students and Engineering Your Future (EYF) for underrepresented males in the school of engineering.

EA has presentation teams made up of two engineering students that travel to different schools and engage students in activities at the younger levels with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) related fields. MYO and EYF both hold sessions, similar to the Women in Engineering Prospective student’s day, for 8th grade students. MYO is entering is 22nd year of programming and EYF is entering in its fifth year.  

“We work to build confidence in the students and to make them believe that they can do it,” director of the engineering diversity program Kevin McLaughlin said. “It does not matter what background they come from, what their race is or how rich they are. What matters is their attitude and their effort when addressing problems.”

McLaughlin has been with the school of engineering since 2002 and has expanded the diversity and success of underrepresented students in the school of engineering. Increasing graduation rates of minority students today to 69.1 percent from 17.7 percent in 1998.

McLaughlin has done this through the increase in programming for BRIDGE, a five-week intensive session that aims at strengthening the skills of minority students before they gain entry into the UConn School of Engineering.

“The BRIDGE program provided me with assistance in computer science and engineering courses that I had not had access to before UConn,” seventh-semester civil engineer and NSBE vice president Carlitta Kwarko said. “But what really helped me when I was here at UConn was the support I received through the mentors who were going through the same thing and looked just like me.”

Most of the organizations on campus, such as NSBE and SWE offer study sessions and mentor programs pairing underclassmen with upperclassmen to “ensure graduation and success.”

In spite of the many advancements made at UConn, some engineers have reported discrimination in classes taken on campus.

“It’s disheartening to hear about the existence of discrimination based off of sex and how prevalent it is today,” third-semester biomedical engineering major Shasha Graves said. “In my lab last semester, I don’t know if it was meant to be a joke, but when I was the only girl in a lab group, one guy said,  ‘Oh, well, you are the girl, so you are going to take the notes today, honey.’”

UConn engineering and its minority students are pushing for more equality in the school of engineering. 

“We can avoid discrimination by supporting one another to disseminate the ‘us vs. them’ mentality,” Graves said. “We need to increase outreach and counteract those voices that tell us no with voices that say yes.”


Elizabeth Charash is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at elizabeth.charash@uconn.edu.