Changing the Face of Engineering
First-generation engineering students and their parents, especially those from historically underrepresented groups, including African-Americans, women, and Hispanics, are more likely to be unaware of career options in STEM-related fields like engineering,” explains Richard Harris, assistant dean of Academic Scholarship, Mentoring and Outreach, and director of the Northeastern University Program in Multicultural Engineering (NUPRIME). “Those students who have chosen to pursue degrees in STEM subjects have traditionally found themselves a very small minority, and have often been challenged to find other students who look like them and share their experiences,” he says.
Forty years ago, Northeastern’s College of Engineering recognized this issue and created Harris’ position, previously held by the late David C. Blackman and Paula Leventman, to help minority students acclimate to the College and leverage the many resources available to support them. “The College of Engineering was way ahead of the curve by recognizing that if you really want to encourage diversity, you need to provide formal and informal mentoring, networking opportunities, organizations, and clubs that make underrepresented students feel they’re part of a larger community,” Harris says.
Rachelle Reisberg, assistant dean of Undergraduate Enrollment and Retention and director of the Women in Engineering program in the College of Engineering, agrees. “In a field typically dominated by men, it’s so important that we create a culture where women feel welcome and comfortable. Through the Women in Engineering Program and organizations such as the Society for Women Engineers, our students receive a continuum of formal and informal support from staff, faculty, and peers to encourage them to seize opportunities and help them achieve their personal aspirations.”
This formula, combined with offering innovative programs and opening the doors to others, has changed the life of many students over the years. We are proud to shine light on a few of our students, each with unique journeys toward their dreams. While there is much more to do, the success of the college’s efforts, from our flagship Summer Bridge program to becoming a National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering partner, is a model for others. Recently, Harris was appointed to the position of special advisor for Educational Pathways Programs in the Office of the Provost to apply his knowledge university-wide.