The under-representation of women and students of color in the undergraduate engineering population is a persistent and complex issue. The numerous “leaks” in the talent pipeline, along with the multifarious causes of under-representation1-4, lead
many institutions, including our own, to take a scattershot approach to recruiting and retaining diverse students in the undergraduate engineering population that may include extra-curricular K12 programming, college admissions scholarships, “gold shirt” programs, and wrap-around mentoring and academic support1,5-7. While many of these programs have been shown effective in recruiting and/or retaining under-represented students into engineering, they are often implemented with little consideration to the
scale or efficiency needed to achieve institution-level goals for undergraduate diversity, which assumes that such goals have even been clearly articulated in the first place.
In this workshop, we propose and demonstrate the use of the Engineering Design Process (EDP)8 as an effective framework for goal-setting and developing targeted interventions to substantively advance undergraduate diversity at the institutional level. We adopted a 4-phase EDP that involves: (1) Defining the problem; (2) Generating multiple unique and viable concepts and selecting a final concept; (3) Detailed design and implementation of a final design; and (4) Design validation and iteration. This case study specifically details the use of Phase 1 through Phase 3 of the EDP for developing and implementing a strategic plan of action for undergraduate diversity at the institution level; and, to our knowledge, it represents the first attempt to use EDP in this context.
Although this effort is still ongoing, we have thus far found EDP to be both efficient and effective in developing a clear plan of action related to undergraduate diversity. Our small working group, consisting of 8 faculty and staff members, initiated EDP in September 2016, concluding problem definition (Phase 1), concept generation and selection (Phase 2), and drafting of a final plan of action (Phase 3) within 6 months. This process included substantive buy-in from faculty uninvolved with the project as well as upper administration. One reason for this efficiency may be our own familiarity as engineers with EDP as well as the comfort of our peers and administrators with this process. We also developed several novel tools that may be useful, either stand-alone or as part of an institution’s diversity EDP. First, in defining diversity issues at our institution (Phase 1), we utilized publically available national databases to establish specific target values for student recruitment and retention within each engineering program at our institution. We found that the clarity of these targets resonated with faculty and administration, as well as the “friendly competition” fostered by intra and inter-Departmental performance comparisons. A second valuable tool developed during this case study was the Diversity Intervention Graph (DIG), which allowed for easy visualization and, ultimately,selection of the vast array of potential interventions that could be applied towards solving diversity issues.
In conclusion, we assert through this early-stage case study that EDP can be a roadmap for addressing issues of undergraduate diversity at the institution level. Given how daunting diversity issues can sometimes appear, we have found that framing and addressing this issue like engineers and explicitly using the EDP has made the process of goal setting, intervention, and evaluation remarkably clear. The overall process and specific tools presented in this case study may be easily extended to other institutions.