To study today’s engineering landscape is to view a panoramic outlook of vast opportunities for future professionals and corporations. Yet, in that very same visual, one would also see distinct areas of unfavorable circumstances.

These factors can create less-than-desirable results for everyone in our industry, from new graduates entering the field to corporations looking for top-notch employees.

As a corporate STEM professional turned executive director, I have taken to task the responsibility of securing those weak areas and facilitating more win-win scenarios in both the education and professional arenas. My ultimate goal is to forge more interdependent relationships and champion innovative best practices among STEM organizations and advocates.

‘Battle to recruit the best and brightest in STEM’ 

The battle to recruit the best and brightest STEM talent is not a new struggle. As a professional who spent over 27 years in corporate America, I worked to develop recruitment strategies for various engineering companies.

Corporations are aware of the tremendous gap and high demand for STEM graduates, and they know the supply of talent is low.

Corporations fail to realize they contribute to widening the gap because they continue going to the same universities and recruiting from the same subset of college and university talent pools, not the vast selection that is available to them. And by making the same choices, these corporations are unfortunately enlarging that gap.

Working in both engineering and human resources over the years, I know the industry’s secret weapon lies within HBCUs. I consider them our most valuable, untapped resource.

ABET-accredited HBCU Engineering

While the 15 ABET-accredited HBCUs make up only 3 percent of the engineering schools across the country, they produce over 30 percent of the African-American graduates with bachelor’s degrees in engineering! One would think that companies would be flocking to the HBCUs to recruit new talent. Sadly, they’re not.

Why? They simply don’t know what they don’t know. Let me explain.

Corporations, by and large, have a set number of Universities they partner with or recruit from. I’ve found when companies look to increase diversity recruitment, they oftentimes go to the same talent pools they traditionally use.

But, if the diverse pipelines are not present in those pools, the companies are not going to get the diversity they’re searching for. And while many of them know about larger institutions such as Georgia Tech, Ohio State, MIT, Stanford or UCLA, they have no idea of the amazing talent and capabilities that exist at HBCUs.

AMIE’s purpose

Our HBCU engineering schools are ABET-accredited engineering programs, which means they have to be strong programs.

And while they may not have as many resources as some of the larger universities because of funding, they have the capabilities and accreditation that match any large institution.

Engineering companies need to know that, and this is why I chose to take the role of Executive Director of Advancing Minorities’ Interests in Engineering (AMIE).

AMIE is a coalition of corporations, government agencies, and ABET-accredited HBCU Engineering Schools. Our primary purpose is to facilitate partnerships between corporations and/or government agencies with one or more of the HBCU engineering programs.

We work to implement and support programs to attract, educate, graduate and place underrepresented minority students in engineering and computer science-related careers.

‘Partnerships and collaboration’

To address the concern regarding diversity in engineering and other STEM industries, AMIE pools the entities together to partner and collaborate on initiatives that will increase the pipeline of talent in colleges and various corporations and agencies.

While many of our partners are doing great things and have taken the time to learn and take advantage of the capabilities that exist at HBCUs, there is much work that can be done on both sides of the pipeline to strengthen the talent and opportunity flow for everyone.

As the Executive Director of AMIE, one of my primary goals is to position the organization as an authoritative conduit through which government agencies, universities and corporations can develop effectual growth and make an impact on the STEM pipeline through meaningful, strategic partnerships. Oftentimes companies work with HBCUs for the sole purpose of recruitment and nothing more.

That’s not a strategic partnership. In order to make a difference in and increase the pipeline, the partnership has to be meaningful, strategic, sustainable and virtually interminable. Until professionals sit down to look at what exists and determine what initiatives align with each other’s needs, the situation is not going to change.

‘Creating more exposure for HBCUs’

AMIE is also working to create more exposure for HBCUs and the innovative capabilities they have. As I mentioned, many companies are not aware of HBCUs and the talent that currently exists in the various programs.

Giving HBCUs more exposure will increase their access to these corporations/agencies, which will open more opportunities for various resources that are traditionally available to other educational institutions.

That may come in the form of funding, scholarships, summer bridge programs, contracts, research, curriculum development, etc. But exposure and awareness are key.

That being said, awareness is not the final answer. As Dr. Phil once stated, “Awareness without action is worthless.” It is critical that companies and corporations equally allocate their resources to HBCUs as much as they do for other institutions.

This will go a long way in making a difference in this battle to find excellent STEM talent. Doing so will allow HBCUs to do more to increase STEM awareness at their institutions. It will also allow students to get involved in more programs and simultaneously provide more opportunities for holistic academic preparation for minority students.

‘Finding the best talent’

If students are not properly prepared, it can be difficult when they try to study engineering. There are programs that are critical in helping students prepare for freshman year, and many HBCUs have retention programs that will make students successful as they complete their college careers.

Support from corporations and government agencies will allow HBCUs to focus on that and increase capabilities at the universities when it comes to contracts and research.

In this struggle to obtain the best opportunities and find the best talent, one thing is for sure: we have to all work together, not in professionally compartmentalized silos. In those separate silos, we’re all going after the same small population of students, and that will never create synergy.

That’s one of the great things about AMIE. It connects universities with corporations/agencies that many times compete with one another. But when we come together under the AMIE umbrella, we have a common goal to share best practices, increase the pipeline and recruit the best diverse talent from that pipeline.

We don’t focus on being competitors; we work to be complements of each other. This is how we will increase the amount of STEM talent we can hire and secure a prosperous landscape of opportunity in our industry for decades to come.

Veronica Nelson is the new executive director of Advancing Minorities’ Interest in Engineering (AMIE).

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