Engineering, like other professional fields, has a history of racial discrimination in the US. Subject to longstanding barriers in many forms—overt racism and discrimination, systemic racism, implicit bias—Black people are underrepresented in engineering.
The resources covered in this guide are designed to help current and aspiring Black engineers advance in engineering education and professional roles.
Engineer Demographics and Statistics
Black engineers are underrepresented in STEM and engineering fields. Research by the non-profit devcolor has found that only 5 percent of developers, engineers, and programmers are Black. About 6,000 Black engineers graduate every year. The number is very low compared to the number of white applicants to universities who graduate. Lack of Black engineer resources at many universities makes it difficult for Black students to find the help they need to graduate.
While the number of Black engineers is low, the numbers for Black women engineers are even more dismal. According to a study by Monique S. Ross, doctoral graduate in Electrical Engineering from Purdue, Black women make up 6.4 percent of the general population but earn only 1.2 percent of undergraduate engineering enrollment and 0.77 percent of all engineering degrees awarded. With the twin disadvantages and discriminations of being Black and female, Black women face great obstacles to representation in engineering.
In addition to overt racism and discrimination, Black people also face systemic challenges. According to the Center for Public Integrity, Black people are statistically more likely to enroll in engineering technology programs than they are in engineering programs guaranteeing a path to licensure. Engineering technology programs with an emphasis on practical application usually cost less and have lower math requirements, making these easier to access for historically academically disadvantaged populations. However, engineering science, conceptual skills, and design courses are often given preference for licensing.
Why Diversity in Engineering is Important
Diversity provides people with equal opportunities, but benefits society as a whole. Strengthening diversity in engineering creates a stronger and safer society. With diversity, businesses have access to a wider talent pool. Diversity creates innovation and creativity by embracing new viewpoints. Diverse engineering teams are more productive, team members form stronger work relationships and collaboration. With diverse, positive team workers, businesses can speak to a multitude of companies and form partnerships. Finally, businesses with diverse workforces reach more diverse customers.
Famous Black Engineers in STEM and How They’ve Changed the World
Future engineers draw inspiration from famous engineers of the present and the past.
Dr. Aprille Ericsson-Jackson
Dr. Aprille Ericsson-Jackson was the first African American woman to earn doctorates at two prestigious universities. Her first doctorate was Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from Howard University, and the second was a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from NASA GSFC3. She is an adjunct professor at Howard University in mechanical engineering and Bowie State University. Ericsson-Jackson is the New Business Lead for the Instrument Systems and Technology Division (ISTD) of Howard University’s Mechanical Engineering department.
Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson
Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson is an American physicist and was the 18th president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute before her retirement. She is the first African American woman to earn a doctorate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the second African American woman in the United States to earn a doctorate in physics. She was the first woman and first African American to hold the position of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute president.
Without mathematicians, engineers are lost. Katherine Johnson’s work was critical to NASA’s launch to the moon. A pioneer in her own right, Katherine Johnson was instrumental in plotting the trajectory for the orbital mission of John Glenn in 1962. She was also responsible for the calculations that helped synchronize Project Apollo’s Lunar Module with the lunar-orbiting Command and Service Module. She was employed working on the Space Shuttle and the Earth Resources Technology Satellite. In tribute to her great contribution to engineering science, NASA Administrator James Bridenstine said, at Johnson’s death at 101, “Our NASA family is sad to learn the news that Katherine Johnson passed away this morning at 101 years old. She was an American hero, and her pioneering legacy will never be forgotten.”
Kunle Olukotun works as a Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. He is a professor at Stanford University. He led the Stanford Hydra research project to develop one of the first chip multiprocessors. He is the Cadence Design Systems Professor in the School of Engineering as well as a Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Stanford University.
Scholarships for Black Engineers
One of the most useful Black engineer resources is knowing what scholarships are available to help young innovators become great like their heroes, and achieve their dreams of becoming engineers. Some scholarships are:
Black American Engineering Scholarship Award
This award is for students in civil, mechanical, electrical, and chemical engineering.
BRPH Future Achievers Scholarship
This scholarship is for students enrolled in:
- Civil Engineering
- Electrical Engineering
- Mechanical Engineering
- Structural Engineering
Black Engineering Leaders Grant
The Black Engineering Leaders Grant is for a Black student or recent graduate who plans on or who is pursuing a career in engineering at a start-up.
Ricoh Scholarship Program
The Ricoh Scholarship Program is a scholarship for junior and sophomores focused on software engineering, P.C. designing, and mechanical designing. The scholarship also covers promoting, finance, bookkeeping, data innovation, or business tasks.
Scholarships for Black Women Engineers
Women face tougher challenges in getting scholarships and grant money. Some scholarships for women are:
Honeywell IPP Scholarship
This scholarship is offered by the Society of Women Engineers, Honeywell, and the National Society of Black Engineers to award eighteen college scholarships to students in the areas of aerospace engineering, and chemical engineering. Computer engineering is represented with scholarships for computer engineering and computer science. Electrical engineering and mechanical engineering students also qualify.
Minority Women in STEM Bi-Annual Scholarship
The Minority Women in STEM Bi-Annual Scholarship offers this scholarship to undergraduate or graduate degree programs majoring in a STEM field, engaged in personal STEM projects, or working in a STEM job to apply.
Articles and Scholarly Works by Black STEM Researchers Related to Diversity
Engineers do not experience their struggles for diversity in an academic vacuum. For Black engineers in academic organizations, raising their voices helps promote the issues essential to helping Black people in engineering. Several engineers in academic positions have spoken about the subject, and these make for great reading and are excellent Black engineer resources.
Black Engineering Faculty Speak: Silence is No Longer an Option
In this article, Monica F. Cox, the first African American woman to earn tenure in engineering at Purdue University, states how Black academicians cannot be silent while racial injustice is a threat to Black lives. Following the murder of George Floyd, Cox opines that Black people in universities and other higher education organizations must be part of the voices raised for societal justice because the academic bubble “could not offer protection from random attacks that overwhelmingly ended the lives of Black people across all walks of life.”
Hyper-invisibility: What it’s Like to be Black in Engineering
In an interview with SPIE, the International Society for Optics and Photonics, biomedical-optics researcher Audrey Bowden discusses the problems of systemic racism, implicit bias, and five guiding principles for implementing change. Her discussion is about how she and her team apply their commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion. The five guiding principles of Attitude, Clarity, Institutional Accountability, Personal Accountability, and Commitment, Resources create the framework against systemic racism and implicit bias.
Racism is the Manifestation of White Supremacy and Antiracism is the Answer
The article by Kelly J. Cross, Assistant Professor at Georgia Tech, Walter H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, details how racism, racist violence, and theft of Black created ideas have combined to silence Black people and marginalize them in engineering fields. As a professor, Ms. Cross works to educate about, identify, and stop racism in higher education and engineering.
Associations for Black Engineers
Networking is important to graduating from an engineering university and succeeding as an engineer. Black engineer resources and associations help Black people graduate and thrive as engineers.
American Association of Blacks in Energy (AABE)
The American Association of Blacks in Energy (AABE) ® serves as a resource for policy discussions about the economic, social, and political impacts of environmental and energy policies on African Americans and other minorities. The association encourages African American students to pursue careers in energy-related fields, as well as supplies scholarships and other financial aid for students.
Black Women in Science and Engineering (BWISE)
BWISE is an organization dedicated to helping Black women succeed in science and engineering. They provide opportunities to connect with others and expand professional networks. The organization has created a platform to share best practices and career experiences. They supply professional development and training for career advancement.
National Association of Black Geoscientists
Founded in 1979, the NABG helps promote the efforts and inclusion of Black geoscientists and engineers in the engineering field. They offer scholarships and help to students in the field.
National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers (NOBCChE)
The NOBCChE is an organization for the advancement of Black chemical engineers and chemists. They have established educational partnerships with other organizations to support people of color in academic, professional, and entrepreneurial pursuits in chemistry, chemical engineering, and related fields.
National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE)
The National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) is one of the largest student-governed organizations in America. Founded in 1975, the organization has more than 600 chapters and more than 24,000 active members in the U.S. and internationally. Its mission is to support and promote collegiate, pre-collegiate students, and technical professionals in engineering and technology.
Related to Black engineer associations are organizations in STEM for Black people and wider efforts to increase Black participation in higher education. Some relevant organizations include:
American Association of Blacks in Higher Education (AABHE)
American Association of Blacks in Higher Education (AABHE) represents Black Americans in higher education on national and international levels. They address such issues as bringing more Black faculty and staff to higher education.
Black Data Processing Associates (BDPA)
Since 1975, the BDPA has been a champion for Black IT leadership. As an organization of Information and Technology professionals, BDPA offers opportunities to connect with others to share knowledge.
Black Contractor Association
Black Contractor Association chapters address the needs of under-represented contractors. The organization gives leadership on a national and state level for African American contractors and engineers. They are dedicated to providing professional development opportunities, information, programs, and services from the perspective of Black contractors.
National Society of Black Physicists
The National Society of Black Physicists, founded in 1977, works to promote and increase opportunities for African Americans in physics. Their goal is to increase the number of African American physicists.
Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals
The Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals (OBAP), founded in 1976, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to minorities, including engineers, in all aviation and aerospace careers. Through scholarships, mentoring, training, and youth-focused education programs, the OBAP helps Black people attain aviation and aerospace careers.
5 Reasons Why Diversity Enhances Your Engineering Team | BMS Performance. https://bmsperformance.com/blog/engineering/5-reasons-why-diversity-enhances-your-engineering-team/.
19 Ground-Breaking Women in Engineering Statistics. https://thecircularboard.com/women-in-engineering-statistics/.
(99+) Kunle Olukotun | LinkedIn. https://www.linkedin.com/in/kunle-olukotun-80a2735/.
A Stanford PhD’s Plan to Graduate 10,000 Black Engineers by 2025. https://www.cnbc.com/2022/02/23/a-stanford-phds-plan-to-graduate-10000-black-engineers-by-2025.html.
AABE: About Us. https://www.aabe.org/index.php?component=pages&id=13.
About Us. http://www.bwiseusa.org/about-us.html.
About Us – AABHE. https://aabhe.education/about/.
ABOUT US – NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF BLACK GEOSCIENTISTS. http://www.nabg-us.org/about-us.html.
About Us – National Society of Black Physicists. https://nsbp.org/page/AboutUs.
Aprille Ericsson-Jackson: Aerospace Engineer, and First African American Woman to Earn PhD’s from Two Renowned Institutions | Capitol Technology University. https://www.captechu.edu/blog/aprille-ericsson-jackson-aerospace-engineer-and-first-african-american-woman-earn-phds-two.
Black American Engineering Scholarship Award – Scholarships.Com. https://www.scholarships.com/financial-aid/college-scholarships/scholarship-directory/academic-major/engineering/black-american-engineering-scholarship-award.
Black Engineering Faculty Speak: Silence Is No Longer an Option | by Monica F. Cox | Medium. https://drmonicacox.medium.com/black-engineering-faculty-speak-silence-is-no-longer-an-option-776d9a7b023f.
Black Engineering Leaders Grant | Bold.Org. https://bold.org/scholarships/black-engineering-leaders-grant/.
Black Engineers Disproportionately Face Barriers in States with License Restrictions – Center for Public Integrity. https://publicintegrity.org/education/black-engineers-face-barriers-in-states/.
Bringing More Black Girls and Women Into Engineering – STEMRules.ComTM. http://stemrules.com/is-the-black-engineering-crisis-a-woman-problem/.
BRPH Scholarship – MyScholarship.App. https://www.myscholarship.app/brph.
Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson Announces Retirement – The Polytechnic. https://poly.rpi.edu/news/2021/06/dr-shirley-ann-jackson-announces-retirement/.
Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson Retires, Dr. Martin A. Schmidt Begins Presidency – The Polytechnic. https://poly.rpi.edu/news/2022/07/dr-shirley-ann-jackson-retires-dr-martin-a-schmidt-begins-presidency/.
Dr. Shirley Jackson: Telecommunications Inventions — Famous Black Inventors. https://www.black-inventor.com/dr-shirley-jackson.
Explorations in Diversifying Engineering Faculty Initia | Edefi. https://www.teamedefi.org/.
Faculty Profile | Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering. https://www.bme.gatech.edu/bme/faculty/Kelly-J.-Cross.
Honeywell IPP Scholarship – Unigo.Com. https://qa.unigo.com/scholarships/minority/scholarships-for-black-men/honeywell-ipp-scholarship.
Hyper-Invisibility: What It’s like to Be Black in Engineering. https://spie.org/news/hyper-invisibility-what-its-like-to-be-black-in-engineering-?SSO=1.
Katherine Johnson | Biography, Education, Accomplishments, & Facts | Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Katherine-Johnson-mathematician.
Katherine Johnson Biography | NASA. https://www.nasa.gov/content/katherine-johnson-biography.
Kunle Olukotun. http://arsenalfc.stanford.edu/kunle/.
Kunle Olukotun | Stanford HAI. https://hai.stanford.edu/people/kunle-olukotun.
Minority Women in STEM Bi-Annual Scholarship | Bold.Org. https://bold.org/scholarships/minority-women-in-stem-bi-annual-scholarship/.
Monique Ross | College of Arts, Sciences & Education | Florida International University. https://case.fiu.edu/about/directory/profiles/ross-monique.html.
National Black Contractors Association. https://www.nationalbca.org/.
NOBCChE Home. https://www.nobcche.org/.
Our Story – ORGANIZATION OF BLACK AEROSPACE PROFESSIONALS. https://obap.org/about/our-story/.
Racism Is the Manifestation of White Supremacy and Antiracism Is the Answer – Cross – 2020 – Journal of Engineering Education – Wiley Online Library. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/jee.20362#.X3xeLXoxRYA.twitter.
Resources – Black in Engineering. https://blackinengineering.org/resources-2/.
The State of Black Tech. https://www.devcolorinmotion.com/the-state-of-black-tech.
Why Is Diversity Important in Engineering? | University Of Cincinnati. https://www.uc.edu/news/articles/2020/10/why-is-diversity-important-in-engineering.html.