The Many Faces of Engineering

What do you see when you think engineer?

Our non-engineering colleagues might envision a middle-aged man at a construction site, sporting a hardhat and poring over a set of plans. But we know that engineering has exploded in recent years due to globalization, the IT and biotech booms, clean energy and a host of other factors. As Lawrence Fisher reports in our spring Forefront (“Engineering evolved”), the field today is so broadly multidisciplinary that new applications require the talents of everyone from “software savants and materials mavens” to “aerospace adepts.”

Apart from their setting and accoutrements, what is the composition of our engineering cohort? We began this conversation in May by discussing our ambition to grow the number of women students in the college (“Women find a home”). But we also want to tackle an even greater challenge with underrepresented minorities.

How could it escape our notice that this fall’s entering freshman class includes just 6.2 percent minority students, compared with 10.4 percent in fall 2005? In stark numbers, this is a drop from 62 to 37 underrepresented minority students, a decline of more than 40 percent, in just five years. Most of the decrease is due to fewer admits selecting Berkeley Engineering. We want to find out why and, because we are engineers, we want to fix the problem.

Our response is an ambitious restructuring that combines our existing Student Affairs Office with CUES, the Center for Underrepresented Engineering Students and its programs. We are also convening a joint faculty and student Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion, charged with developing strategies for increasing student diversity and supporting inclusive classroom and student life experiences.

The newly created office of Engineering Student Services enables us to devote more staff to our core mission: attracting and supporting exemplary engineering students. The entire advising staff will focus on developmental services that promote academic success: targeted recruitment, experiential learning opportunities like undergraduate research and internships, peer mentoring and related programs that enable each member of our student body—those from well-represented as well as traditionally underrepresented populations—to lead and excel. We will also continue to provide additional student services to address issues of diversity, access and inclusion.

Student diversity is an important ingredient to provide an exceptional educational experience and a key to preparing engineers for a leadership role in society at large and among the global populations they will serve in the real world. We welcome your perspectives and suggestions.

S. Shankar Sastry

Dean, College of Engineering
Roy W. Carlson Professor of EECS, BioE & ME
Director, Blum Center for Developing Economies
Email Dean Sastry

Upcoming Events

August 11: Welcome reception and dinner for the 2009 Pre Engineering Program (PREP) students and their families: A great opportunity to welcome incoming students and to get to know some of our current undergrad and grad students. Time & Place: 5:00-7:00 pm, Lipman Room, Barrows Hall.

August 24: Undergraduate New Student Orientation: The full agenda will include department meetings, pre-advising sessions and laboratory open houses.

August 27: Berkeley Entrepreneurs Forum: Innovating at Scale within Google: Three top innovators from Google will touch on their experiences developing and launching Google's "Geo" tools.

October 2-4: Homecoming 2009: Start making your plans to reconnect with Cal, reunite with old friends, watch the Bears take on USC. What better way to spend an autumn weekend?

Topics: Education & outreach, Students