Changing the Face of the School of Engineering

For decades, the roster of UNM School of Engineering graduates read much the same way: male and mostly Caucasian. Due to a concerted effort to develop a diverse student body, the face of the SOE has literally and figuratively changed.

In the mid-60s, the demand for engineers soared and SOE administrators began to address the shortage of women and minorities in engineering. "It was an issue of making it possible for all students to aspire to - and to access - higher education," says Gerald May, past president of UNM and past dean of the School of Engineering.

Pioneering Programs

The School gained national recognition when it established groundbreaking programs to encourage minority students to pursue engineering. In 1975, the Native American Program, School of Engineering (NAPCOE) was started with a grant from the Sloan Foundation. The goal was to increase the number of Native American students earning degrees in engineering by providing scholarships, workshops, and professional development programs. It was - and still is - the only program of its kind in the nation.

That same year, local chapters of national organizations were formed at UNM, including the Hispanic Engineering Organization (now the Hispanic Engineering and Science Organization or HESO) the Society for Women Engineers (SWE), the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES), and the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE). Each program offers its own unique mix of support - scholarships, tutoring, networking, and social events - to help students integrate and succeed academically.

In 1979, with the support of then dean Bill Gross and funding from the MESA Foundation, the New Mexico Math Engineering and Science Achievement (MESA) program was started. The program's goal was to fill the "pipeline" with high school students interested in studying engineering at universities throughout New Mexico. To date, the MESA program has helped thousands of students pursue higher education in technical fields.

Achieving Success

In just over three decades, these programs have had a dramatic effect on enrollment. Today almost 40% of the student body is from a minority population, a high percentage for an engineering school. Determination and foresight were key to success, as was New Mexico's inherent diversity. "We have a multicultural population and we strive to reflect that," says Steve Peralta, director of Engineering Student Services. "Having a diverse enrollment also helps our students understand how diverse the work force is."

Today the multicultural programs are part of Engineering Student Services, which also includes the Academic Advisement Center. The consolidation of these programs helps the SOE continue its commitment to developing a multicultural enrollment, says Peralta. "Now that we have multicultural programs, recruiting, scholarships, tutoring, and mentoring under one umbrella, it's easier for students to access services and easier to share resources, and that should lead to even greater success."