In my higher education experience, I found that many faculty lack an appreciation for the merits of diversity. Several faculty I interviewed while I worked on campus echoed a prevailing belief among a handful of their most vocal colleagues that diversity was the antithesis to quality. In other words, diversity sacrifices quality. This false opinion has the potential to limit the promise of students from underrepresented groups, particularly if it influences university admissions or hiring decisions. More tragically though, the research also shows that such attitudes could also negatively affect the entire campus community, including its faculty.

A few months ago, I was privileged to serve on a diversity panel with six deans of engineering during the annual Engineering Dean’s Institute, hosted by the American Association of Engineering Educators. We were asked to share our thoughts on why diversity matters in each of the following areas, which constitute the primary responsibilities of every engineering dean:

a. Recruitment of Talent (faculty, students) and creating the environment (culture) for that talent to flourish
b. Curricular and Extracurricular Programs, and adding value
c. Research and Translation, and connection to industry
d. Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Here are my thoughts on how deans and engineering colleges can foster diversity in each of these areas.

Recruitment of Talent

The broken pipeline is sometimes used as an excuse for a lack of effort to recruit and retain students of color in engineering. True, only 4 percent of African-American high school seniors are proficient in math. However, a recent analysis NSBE conducted found that only 20 percent of black high school students who complete calculus major in engineering! Where are they going?

Colleges of engineering must do more to promote the promise and joy of engineering in middle schools, high schools and communities of color, rather than propagating the culture of “weed-out classes” and competition that exists in too many engineering colleges.

Curricular and Extracurricular Programs

When I was a student, only a handful of my black classmates participated in team-based engineering design activities, such as solar car or robotics clubs. Most of the participants were white males, including the faculty members who advised the teams. This lack of diversity is often the case in co-curricular engineering activities. In most cases, we didn’t feel welcomed even if we mustered the courage to show up.

Not only must colleges and universities be intentional about making these teams and clubs more inclusive so more women and students of color get hands-on engineering experience, they should consider flipping the curriculum. In their book, “A Whole New Engineer: The Coming Revolution in Engineering Education,” David Goldberg, Mark Somerville and Catherine Whitney suggest that these co-curricular and extracurricular activities no longer exist at the periphery of engineering education: they should be central to the learning process, as they are at Olin College and the University of Illinois.

Research and Translation

An analysis we conducted while I was working at MIT found that students who participated in research graduated at higher rates and with higher GPAs than those who didn’t get involved in research, even when we controlled for the students’ sophomore GPA. Most important, though, these students were also more likely to consider graduate school.

Efforts must be made to ensure that more undergraduate students of color get research and internship experiences: a practical strategy for increasing graduation rates and graduate school matriculation, and for fostering opportunities to translate research discoveries into commercial success.

Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Only 4 percent of tech entrepreneurs are minorities, according to a 2012 PolicyBridge report. In my last blog post, I issued a call to foster innovation and excellence in the African-American community by pursuing opportunities that force us to apply our knowledge to solve problems in new and novel areas.

The mind of an engineer is similar to that of an entrepreneur: both require critical thinking, analytical reasoning and problem-solving skills. The difference, according to recent studies, is that entrepreneurs have an outsized tolerance for risk.

One way to foster more innovation and diversity in engineering is to introduce more opportunities for students, beginning in their freshman year, to work collaboratively to solve major, seemingly intractable social problems, such as a lack of clean water and sustainable energy in many parts of the world. This approach, which is the central theme of “A Whole New Engineer,” will foster more diversity, because the grand challenges that are solved will pique the interest of women and minorities who’ve traditionally felt left out of the engineering equation.

Forty years of diversity efforts at universities have embedded lessons of inclusion into the social and educational fabric of the undergraduate experience, but it will take a collective effort to similarly realize dramatic improvements in racial and ethnic diversity in engineering. In summarizing decades of his higher education research, Alexander Astin maintained that “beliefs are fundamental.” His statement suggests that our collective first step should be for university faculty and deans to increase their understanding of the benefits of diversity, both as individuals and as a distinctive community.

In my higher education experience, I found that many faculty lack an appreciation for the merits of diversity. Several faculty I interviewed while I worked on campus echoed a prevailing belief among a handful of their most vocal colleagues that diversity was the antithesis to quality.