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Race, Rigor, and Selectivity in U.S. Engineering

Race, Rigor, and Selectivity in U.S. Engineering

The History of an Occupational Color Line

Amy E. Slaton

ISBN 9780674036192

Publication date: 02/15/2010

Despite the educational and professional advances made by minorities in recent decades, African Americans remain woefully underrepresented in the fields of science, technology, mathematics, and engineering. Even at its peak, in 2000, African American representation in engineering careers reached only 5.7 percent, while blacks made up 15 percent of the U.S. population. Some forty-five years after the Civil Rights Act sought to eliminate racial differences in education and employment, what do we make of an occupational pattern that perpetually follows the lines of race?

Race, Rigor, and Selectivity in U.S. Engineering pursues this question and its ramifications through historical case studies. Focusing on engineering programs in three settings—in Maryland, Illinois, and Texas, from the 1940s through the 1990s—Amy E. Slaton examines efforts to expand black opportunities in engineering as well as obstacles to those reforms. Her study reveals aspects of admissions criteria and curricular emphases that work against proportionate black involvement in many engineering programs. Slaton exposes the negative impact of conservative ideologies in engineering, and of specific institutional processes—ideas and practices that are as limiting for the field of engineering as they are for the goal of greater racial parity in the profession.


  • Race, Rigor, and Selectivity in U.S. Engineering is an important contribution to understanding the historical institutional and individual challenges in attracting, retaining, and advancing underrepresented minority students in engineering disciplines. Most significantly, [Slaton] recognizes that many of the thorniest challenges are with the institutions that students would enter and not with the students themselves. Slaton offers common sense observations and practical suggestions for how the engineering community through diversification might add vitality to the profession, and better serve its creed of working for ‘the advancement and betterment of human welfare.’

    —Dr. Norman L. Fortenberry, Director, Center for the Advancement of Scholarship on Engineering Education, National Academy of Engineering


  • Amy E. Slaton is Associate Professor of History at Drexel University.

Book Details

  • 298 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press