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Cornell makes strides in science, engineering diversity

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Syl Kacapyr

In engineering and science fields, women, persons with disabilities, and three ethnic and racial groups are chronically underrepresented, according to a recent report by the National Science Foundation. Over the last 10 years, Cornell has made strides to close those gaps in all levels of its degree programs.

The NSF report provides detailed statistics on the status of these underrepresented groups within sciences and engineering, and ranks institutions of higher education in such categories as percentage of undergraduate women enrolled in engineering degree programs, and percentage of undergraduate black men and women in baccalaureate programs who go on to earn doctorate degrees in science. According to the report, underrepresented people of color in these fields are defined as black; Hispanic; or American Indian or Alaska Native.

“Progress in these areas brings a further level of excellence to Cornell and all students and faculty who participate in these fields,” said A.T. Miller, associate vice provost for academic diversity. “We all benefit from a wider range of knowledge, experience and exposure a diverse student body brings to the university.”

As of fall 2014, women constituted 39 percent of engineering undergraduates – almost twice the national average of 20 percent, according to the report. In 2004, women made up 27 percent of undergraduate engineering majors at Cornell.

For graduate women in engineering fields, Cornell’s enrollment was 31 percent as of fall 2014, well above the national average of 23 percent, according to the report. In 2004, Cornell’s graduate women enrollment was 23 percent.

“At the graduate level, we have been steadily closing the gap for underrepresented groups,” said Barbara Knuth, senior vice provost and dean of the Graduate School. “For example, last year women earned 42 percent of graduate degrees granted at Cornell, and over the past 10 years, the percentage of underrepresented minority students earning graduate degrees increased 200 percent. We recognize that we still have work to do to close the gap entirely, so we have active initiatives focused on recruitment, supporting transitions to graduate school, and fostering academic success.” 

According to the report, Cornell was No. 2 nationwide for undergraduate women who go on to earn science and engineering doctorates. Cornell also fared well in the report for undergraduate black men and women, and Hispanic men and women, who go on to earn science and engineering doctorates.

Cornell was No. 15 for top baccalaureate institutions of black science and engineering doctorate recipients, with most institutions ahead of it being historically black colleges or minority serving institutions. And it was No. 9 for top baccalaureate institutions of Hispanic science doctorate recipients, and No. 10 for engineering doctorate recipients, with most institutions ahead of it being Hispanic serving institutions or minority serving institutions.

“That is a very strong statement about how we are preparing our women and black and Hispanic undergraduate students for doctoral studies in engineering and science fields,” said Sara Hernandez, director of diversity programs in engineering and incoming associate dean for inclusion and student engagement at the Graduate School.

For students with disabilities, Cornell was also rated near the top for baccalaureate institutions of science and engineering doctoral recipients, tied for No. 6.

“There is still plenty of opportunity for further development in all of these areas to reach equity,” Miller said. “Excellence in this area feeds all of the other areas of our aspirations to be at the top in these fields, so this is a prime focus for our continued development.”


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