Underrepresented Racial/Ethnic Minority Students

By Deborah Liverman posted 06-12-2018 08:24


African Americans, American Indians/Alaska Natives, and Latinos are grouped together in a common term known as underrepresented racial/ethnic minority groups or URM students.  URMs have historically comprised a minority of the U.S. population and earned between 12.5 and 17 percent of all STEM degrees in 2011.   

According to the most recent National Science Foundation (NSF) data, African Americans comprise 5 percent of the science and engineering work force while they constitute 12 percent of the overall work force.  For Hispanics, the number is similar at 6 percent of the science and engineering work force with a 16 percent representation in the overall work force.* 

While surveying colleges and universities, best practices at STEM-intensive career centers for URM students were plentiful.  Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) partners with their Minority Students Office to meet individually with every URM student who is part of the preorientation program,  and the staff is currently working on their office’s diversity statement.  Carnegie Mellon has a specific appointment type labeled “diversity” to encourage student engagement and has developed resource sheets with links and tips on job-search resources.  

At Cooper Union, career center staff serve on the Diversity Task Force and are actively involved in conversations around diversity.  To help employers understand any challenges on campus for diverse populations, Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) talks intentionally about their diversity and inclusion efforts as well as hosts a “Reverse Career Fair" event prior to their large spring career fair showcasing  student groups and providing an avenue for discussion between employers and students.  These various efforts assist in opening up communications and providing opportunities for programmatic collaboration around careers for underrepresented minorities. 

Although career centers provide formal services for all students, national professional associations have been instrumental in ensuring that URM students have the opportunity to connect with professionals in their fields. For students, memberships to these groups and attending conferences, provides the opportunity to receive support in their academic pursuits, helps them gain access to role models that look like them, and increases their connections with employers.   

In fact, an observation made on the Michigan Tech campus is that their URMs tend to have better luck landing jobs and internships when attending the national conferences of The National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) and Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) than attending their college’s career fair.  Perhaps URM students are able to better communicate their experiences and skills in these safe environments.   

While there are many professional opportunities for engineers and scientists of colors, the following are the most prominent groups that engage college students in their associations and facilitate career fairs and events that connect students and employers. 

  • AABE American Association of Blacks in Energy
  • AISES  The American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES)
  • BDPA Black Data Processing Association
  • HENAAC  Hispanics in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)
  • MAES Latinos in Science and Engineering
  • NOBCChE   The National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers   
  • NSBE  The National Society of Black Engineers
  • NSBP National Society of Black Physicists
  • The National GEM Consortium
  • SACNAS Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science
  • SHPE  Society of Hispanic Professional Engineer


If your institution has a collegiate chapter of any of the above associations, collaborations with these groups would be natural connections for your career center and employers.  In addition, other conferences, e.g.,  Grace Hopper Women of Color in Tech Application, also want URM students and therefore offer discounted or free registration to their annual event. 

How can we best support those students that do not attend these professional conferences or engage with professional associations in their career pursuits?  We can help all URM students by exposing them to broad career options, helping them develop leadership and professional skills to be successful, facilitate connections with upperclassmen and alumni mentors, ensure workshops panels/presenters and videos are diverse so that URM students can “visualize themselves” in these careers, help students in the job-search process to assess culture fit with companies and graduate programs, and assist them in exploring role expectations for their culture that may influence their career decisions. 

There have been many efforts to increase students of colors representation in STEM and national professional organizations have this goal as their mission. Currently, there is a joint effort by NSBE, SHPE, The American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES), Society of Women Engineers (SWE), and other organizations called the 50K Coalition (50kcoalition.org) with a goal of producing 50,000 diverse engineering graduates annually in the United States by 2025. 

As career centers and employers, we can help in reaching this goal by helping students process what happens in the classroom and how it is applicable outside the classroom, explore career paths, gain research and internship experience, and assist in access to opportunities. 

*No data was available for American Indians/Alaska Natives