Starkville — When Dr. Tommy Stevenson speaks about the importance of diversity in student engineering programs, it’s not just from an administrative perspective — it’s from personal experience.
Stevenson, who was recently named assistant dean for diversity and student development at Mississippi State University’s (MSU’s) Bagley College of Engineering, believes that his own positive experience as an MSU engineering graduate is a strong testimonial for the long-term career opportunities that may be garnered from an engineering education.
In his new role, Stevenson will be charged with strengthening the college’s diversity programs, while increasing minority student participation, according to Dean Kirk Schulz. While Bagley has placed in the top 15% among national institutions graduating African-American engineers, Stevenson said that there is great potential to build on that base.
According to fall 2004 figures cited by Stevenson, African-Americans accounted for around 11.3% of College of Engineering undergraduates, while women accounted for around 17.6%.
“The problem-solving and analytical skills that are developed from an engineering degree are beneficial in so many areas,” Stevenson said in an interview shortly after his new appointment. “Our program provides not only a strong educational foundation, but important leadership, communication and mentoring skills.”
Stevenson, who holds both a bachelor’s degree in industrial technology and master’s in education administration from MSU and a doctorate in higher education from Bowling Green (Ohio) State University, said that the demands of the workplace are changing, with continuing emphasis on the skills developed through engineering disciplines. More minorities and women need to be a part of that process, with expanded communication, networking and educational outreach programs that promote the advantages of an engineering degree from MSU.
One initiative that has yielded positive results is the college’s Summer Bridge Program for incoming minority freshman. For five weeks during the summer prior to their freshman year on campus, students take two classes — public speaking and pre-calculus — and Stevenson said it provides an effective transition from high school to college. Outreach efforts via K-12 summer camps for students with an interest in engineering, math and science also provide opportunities to cultivate student interest.
Current engineering students as well as alumni are also vital to the recruitment and retention effort, Stevenson added.
“Part of our strategy is to engage our students who are already here in the process by soliciting their input in identifying individuals from their hometowns who may be strong candidates for an engineering education. Additionally, mentoring programs that match entering freshman with upperclassmen are effective in easing that transition from high school to college.”
Engineering Day programs provide opportunities for parents, students and alumni to interact and Stevenson said that he plans to involve more engineering alumni as resource contacts for students, with input on professional matters ranging from job interviews, salary negotiations and leadership development. Said Stevenson, “We are in the process of obtaining feedback to see what we can continue to do better.”
Stevenson said that he believes the diversity initiative’s importance stretches beyond Mississippi State with broader statewide implications. “Meeting the needs of women and students of color in our state helps not only those individual students, but our state in reaching its potential in a changing economic environment.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Karen Kahler Holliday at email@example.com.