Purdue faculty to participate in diversity training program

Five members of the mechanical engineering faculty at Purdue University have been chosen to participate in a National Science Foundation diversity training program so they can help recruit African-American students.

Eleven African-American students were enrolled in the mechanical engineering program in fall 2014, according to data from the school's Office of Institutional Research, Assessment and Effectiveness. That's fewer than 1 percent of the 1,376 students total, making African-Americans the school's most under-represented minority population.

Purdue University is among five universities nationwide chosen to participate in the program that takes a top-down approach to shifting the culture in mechanical engineering to a more diverse and inclusive environment, the Journal and Courier of Lafayette reported. The other universities chosen for the National Science Foundation-funded program are Michigan Technological University, Oregon State University, Texas Tech University and the University of Oklahoma.

The faculty members at Purdue will undergo diversity training, such as learning about stereotypes, bias, how to plan for change, and how to understand the way minorities experience mechanical engineering, according to Klod Kokini, associate dean for academic affairs and a professor of mechanical engineering.

"The hope and expectation is ultimately it will lead to changes that will make it a more welcoming environment for everyone," he said.

The faculty members also will participate in a virtual learning community, which will allow them to work together and learn from each other and other experts, as well as work on projects, such as analyzing the impact of the curriculum on minority students, Kokini said.

Although it's unclear why African-American students are under-represented, according to department head and mechanical engineering professor Anil Bajaj, the faculty members will speak with students and attempt to identify barriers.

Black students lack the same kind of community as other students because their numbers as so low, said Jim Jones, associate professor and associate head of mechanical engineering.

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