Christine Grant1 Tonya Peeples2 Lynnette Madsen3

1, Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina, United States
2, Department of Chemical Engineering, The Pennsylvania State University, State College, Pennsylvania, United States
3, National Science Foundation, Alexandria, Virginia, United States

Diversity and inclusion in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields is a global issue. The challenging issues facing the world relating to STEM diversity cross national borders and require leveraging the talents of diverse constituents. Active international efforts at inclusive talent development are being undertaken to empower persons from groups historically underrepresented in STEM communities. The US National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering (NACME) reports that in the United States, African Americans are one of the most underrepresented minority groups in engineering relative to their population. This is in spite of the fact that there has been a great deal of progress in “growing African American scientists, engineers, and technologists since the Howard University School of Engineering opened in 1910.” The number of African Americans in engineering at all degree levels is not representative of their percentage in the US population.
In 2012, a workshop on “Ethnic Diversity in Materials Science and Engineering” was co-sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy (DOE), the MRS Foundation, North Carolina State University, and the University Materials Council (UMC). Comprised of Department Heads, Chairpersons, Directors, and group leaders from academic programs in the materials field in United States, Canadian, and Australian universities, UMC is a forum for sharing best practices related to materials science and engineering (MSE). Focusing on issues affecting recruitment and retention and long-term success in MSE, the workshop participants examined diversity data in MSE departments. According to the US National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, although African Americans make up 12.2% and Latinos 16.3% of the US population, they received only 2.5% and 5.3% of MSE degrees awarded in 2010, respectively. At the heart of the recommendations to increase retention, recruitment, and career success of ethnically diverse groups were topics with a focus on the following three groups: (a) Individuals, (b) Academic Leaders, and (c) Federal Agencies.
Our goal in this paper is to shift this conversation away from the dire message about the lack of African Americans in the field and focus on positive advancements, namely, the leadership of African Americans in engineering and the role of professional societies in their leadership development. Reflecting on the action plan for ethnic diversity in MSE and STEM, we posit that there is a constituency missing in these discussions, namely, professional societies. While it is critically important to recognize technical achievements and the early champions of change, it is also crucial to highlight the importance of professional societies, and challenge them to develop a greater level of authentic inclusion of African Americans in their organizations. Societies include, but are not limited to, those focused on: (1) advancing diversity and inclusion via empowerment, (2) developing underrepresented groups within specific disciplines, (3) originating and facilitating cross-disciplinary interactions, and (4) leading change in the realm of providing services, information, and tools for stakeholders to create a diverse workforce of engineers. Professional societies can play a pivotal role in the diversification of science and engineering profession and the authentic inclusion of engaged African Americans in the direction of science and engineering disciplines. We will discuss how the development of leaders across academia, industry and governmental entities benefits from the opportunities to grow, serve and eventually lead in student-led, career-enhancing, and paradigm-shifting organizations. This paper highlights the careers of several African American leaders in both industry and academia, including their experiential perspectives on the role of professional societies in their own leadership development.