Specialized fields seek more minorities

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The College of Science and Mathematics, the College of Engineering and Computer Science and some of their student groups will continue efforts to increase minority student enrollment in fields that have historically produced a low numbers of graduates, according to college officials.

The College of Engineering and Computer Science has produced a stable number of minority students graduating in recent years, according to Michael Kabo, the college’s associate dean.

According to the student ethnicity count completed annually by the college, nine African-American, 118 Asian-American, 77 Hispanic-American, one Native American and 182 other students earned degrees from the college in Spring 2005.

The college offers degrees in automation engineering, computer science, computer engineering, electrical engineering, engineering management, engineering materials, mechanical engineering, manufacturing systems engineer and civil engineering.

The college enrolled similar percentages of students of various races and ethnicity in Fall 2005. In Spring 2005, 4 percent of students enrolled in the college were African American, 22 percent were Hispanic American and 22 percent were Asian American.

Numbers of minority students are lower in the College of Science and Mathematics. The college offers degrees in biology, chemistry, geology, mathematics and physics and astronomy.

According to the most recent data available, seven African American students in 2001-02 received a degree in biology, making up 4 percent of the college’s students. Latinos had 26 students enrolled, or 14 percent of the total. In the field of geology, there were only two minority students listed as receiving a degree in 2001-02. Only two Latino students received a degree in the fields of physics and astronomy. No minority students received a degree in chemistry in 2001-02.

The numbers may seem low, but they are not out of the ordinary, Kabo said.

“We haven’t seen any trend,” he said. “The numbers have been consistent over time.”

Programs within the university have encouraged some minority students to go into fields of engineering and science, such as the NASA CSUN/JPL PAIR program, which allows minority students to take challenging classes outside of the university using data and research from real NASA/JPL experiments and projects.

There are also some campus organizations outside university administration that look to boost the numbers of minority students in some colleges, especially the College of Engineering and Computer and Science.

The Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers is a student group that makes an effort at recruiting, retaining and graduating Latino students in the field of engineering.

Ivan Escobar, freshman manufacturing systems major, has already come across SHPE and hopes the organization might benefit him.

“I heard about the society called SHPE,” he said. “I’m thinking about joining because it might be helpful.”

A similar organization that makes the same effort for African American students is the National Society of Black Engineers. Despite the organizations, the numbers have remained steadily low over the years, according to the ethnicity count of both colleges of Engineering and Computer Science and the College of Science and Mathematics.

Kabo said the main reason there may not be more minority students in these specific colleges is due to the lack of role models in the field.

“I believe there is an insufficient number of role models,” Kabo said. “There is no one to look up to. A lot of students don’t have family members that are in the profession, so there is no external reference.”

The College of Science and Mathematics has the same problem, said Vicki Pedone, the college’s associate dean.

“How many people can name a famous geologist? Students tend to gravitate into other majors that they know what the career is all about,” Pedone said.

Jerry Stinner, the dean of the College of Science and Mathematics, said he and Kabo recognize the university’s acknowledgment of the merits of having a diverse campus, but it is difficult to find such role models and diverse faculty when every college and university is looking for the same thing.

Another reason for the lack of minority students in these colleges may be a result of communication between the students and the college, Pedone said.

“We need to get better in our outreach to students,” she said.

Another possible way to get more minority students interested in these fields is to keep in touch with former students, so that they come back and help and mentor up-and-coming students.

“We need to have better contact with our alumni,” Kabo said. “Having first-year students hearing from someone they can relate to can really help. We hope alumni can be more active with future students.”

But numbers on the charts may be deceiving because there are so many different students in engineering classes, Escobar said.

“Judging from the classes I have taken, they seemed to be pretty diverse,” Escobar said.

Oscar Areliz can be reached at oscar.areliz@csun.edu.