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Creating affinity among diverse populations on a college campus is about "brokering relationships," according to Donald McCoy, who spent one-third of his 30 years with IBM working on outreach programs to increase diversity.
The pipeline of future technicians and engineers is built by helping women and people from various cultural experiences feel valued, said McCoy, who was trained as a electrical engineer. He thinks this process begins with college administrators, faculty and staff members thinking about how they can help cultivate diversity and be a resource that encourages underrepresented minority students to enter science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.
"People are willing to stay if they are among peers," he said.
To create affinity on campus, community colleges should form student groups affiliated with national organizations, such as the National Society of Black Engineers, the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers and the Society of Women Engineers, McCoy said. An educator should be assigned to serve as an advisor to these groups to ensure they stay focused and connected to the college, he said.
Just setting regular meetings to allow industry representatives to talk about careers opportunities that cross disciplines and the skills that employers want provides a platform for other activities, McCoy said. He noted that brown bag lunches and job shadowing are no-cost ways to bring together students and successful STEM professionals who look like them and talk like them.
“We’re not talking rocket science, we’re not talking anything [expensive]. It’s people brokering relationships,” said McCoy, who earned an associate of applied science degree in electrical and electronics technology from the College of Albemarle in North Carolina before attaining a bachelor's degree.
Listening to suggestions from students can also help colleges recruit and retain students, McCoy said at the recent Advanced Technological Education (ATE) Principal Investigators Conference in Washington, D.C., where he moderated a student panel discussion (see video, below).
Continuing with outreach
Even in retirement, McCoy is involved in reaching out to minorities in all settings to make them aware of STEM careers. He has served as a K-postsecondary STEM education consultant on projects for NASA, the U.S. Department of Education and the National Science Foundation, as well as universities and schools. He serves on the industry advisory board of the South Carolina ATE Center of Excellence at Florence-Darlington Technical College.
McCoy also volunteers as a judge for robotics competitions and participates in other community activities that pique students' interest in STEM fields by putting technology in their hands. These are opportunities for students to see and interact with adults from diverse backgrounds.
McCoy said he uses these events to tell students, "You can make it, too. And by the way, here are some of my struggles, and how I handled them, and here’s what I continue to do.”
To grab students’ attention, McCoy typically begins these sessions with a multimedia demonstration about the chips in game systems or the components of cell phones.
“You do not always have to pour dollars into these things. Our human equity brings a lot. You ought to have lab equipment and technologies available—it may not be the latest and the greatest—but it provides a concept and awareness of what is there,” he said.
ATE Conference, Closing Plenary Session, October 29, 2011 from AACC Amer Assn of Comm Colleges on Vimeo.
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