Ed­u­cat­ing black engi­neers

Mor­gan’s DeLoatch pro­duced more black engi­neers than any ed­u­ca­tor in the coun­try

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By David Wil­son David Wil­son is pres­i­dent of Mor­gan State Univer­sity in Bal­ti­more. His email ad­dress is: david.wil­son@mor­gan.edu.

What does it take to ed­u­cate a crit­i­cal mass of black engi­neers to­day? Just ask Eu­gene M. DeLoatch; he knows be­cause he’s done it. He has been dean of Mor­gan State Univer­sity’s Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. School of En­gi­neer­ing in Bal­ti­more since the school’s found­ing more than 30 years ago. He is cred­ited with pro­duc­ing more black engi­neers than any other in­di­vid­ual in the his­tory of Amer­i­can higher ed­u­ca­tion.

Gene, or “Dean De” as he is known on cam­pus, came to Mor­gan in the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math of Mary­land’s be­lated de­seg­re­ga­tion of its pre­dom­i­nantly white cam­puses. Threat­ened with loss of fed­eral funds, Mary­land be­gan to sub­stan­tively de­seg­re­gate its his­tor­i­cally white pub­lic cam­puses in the mid-1970s. The hastily planned in­te­gra­tion of these cam­puses had a dev­as­tat­ing im­pact on the state’s poorly funded his­tor­i­cally black in­sti­tu­tions, all of which suf­fered sig­nif­i­cant en­roll­ment de­clines.

In 1947, a study of Mary­land higher ed­u­ca­tion car­ried out by the Amer­i­can Coun­cil on Ed­u­ca­tion had rec­om­mended the devel­op­ment of en­gi­neer­ing pro­grams at Mor­gan in or­der to pro­vide op­por­tu­ni­ties for blacks to pur­sue en­gi­neer­ing in a seg­re­gated sys­tem. The state never acted on this rec­om­men­da­tion.

Blacks were 30 per­cent of Mary­land’s pop­u­la­tion in1982, but ac­counted for a mere 3 per­cent of to­tal un­der­grad­u­ate en­gi­neer­ing de­grees awarded statewide that year. And while Mor­gan was the nat­u­ral choice for devel­op­ment of new pro­grams fol­low­ing a 1983 study, which rec­om­mended more en­gi­neer­ing de­gree pro­grams for AfricanAmer­i­cans, there was sig­nif­i­cant op­po­si­tion.

In a highly con­tro­ver­sial de­ci­sion, the re­spon­si­bil­ity for en­gi­neer­ing ed­u­ca­tion in the Bal­ti­more area was di­vided be­tween two cam­puses, UMBC and Mor­gan, with Mor­gan ap­proved for three un­der­grad­u­ate pro­grams in 1984. That was the year that Gene DeLoatch ar­rived at Mor­gan to lead its new en­gi­neer­ing school, with in­ad­e­quate fund­ing and chal­lenges ga­lore. For ex­am­ple, when the state agreed to build a fa­cil­ity to house the new en­gi­neer­ing pro­grams, it built one with­out class­rooms be­cause the Mor­gan cam­pus, ac­cord­ing to state for­mu­las, had an ex­cess of class­room space, al­beit in poor and di­lap­i­dated con­di­tion.

Gene also had to deal with the widely held per­cep­tion that there were sim­ply not many black stu­dents who were pre­pared to suc­cess­fully pur­sue a rig­or­ous en­gi­neer­ing pro­gram. He set about re­cruit­ing fac­ulty mem­bers and put in place ini­tia­tives such as an ef­fec­tive pre-col­lege sum­mer tran­si­tion pro­gram to en­sure that stu­dents be­gan their col­lege ca­reers on strong foot­ing. He worked to de­velop spe­cial cour­ses for teach­ing in­tro­duc­tory sub­jects such as math­e­mat­ics and physics in in­no­va­tive ways. As a re­sult, Mor­gan en­gi­neer­ing stu­dents his­tor­i­cally have had the high­est av­er­age grad­u­a­tion rates on cam­pus.

What does suc­cess look like? Con­sider that by 1991, only seven years af­ter ap­proval of its three un­der­grad­u­ate pro­grams, Mor­gan alone awarded 76 per­cent more de­grees to blacks than the en­tire state of Mary­land had 10 years ear­lier, and it led all cam­puses in the state in en­gi­neer­ing de­grees awarded. Mor­gan ac­counted for over 40 per­cent of the black bach­e­lor’s de­grees in all en­gi­neer­ing pro­grams in the state. In the three ar­eas in which it of­fered de­grees, it ac­counted for be­tween 60 per­cent and 100 per­cent of all the awards. What is even more im­pres­sive is that Mor­gan main­tains ap­prox­i­mately these same shares of statewide awards to­day. And in 1991, 40 per­cent of Mor­gan’s awards in en­gi­neer­ing were to women — more than twice the statewide av­er­age.

Mor­gan also be­came a sig­nif­i­cant con- trib­u­tor on the na­tional level. De­spite hav­ing only a small num­ber of un­der­grad­u­ate en­gi­neer­ing pro­grams, Mor­gan cur­rently ranks fourth na­tion­ally in the num­ber of un­der­grad­u­ate en­gi­neer­ing de­grees awarded to African Amer­i­cans. Mor­gan en­gi­neer­ing grad­u­ates are in­no­va­tors, de­sign­ers, en­trepreneurs, and re­searchers who are highly suc­cess­ful in the pri­vate and pub­lic sec­tors af­ter grad­u­a­tion.

Eu­gene DeLoatch re­tired as dean of Mor­gan’s Clarence Mitchell Jr. School of En­gi­neer­ing in June, af­ter more than three pro­duc­tive decades as the school’s leader. Through­out his long ca­reer at Mor­gan, and else­where, he has been a highly vis­i­ble and in­flu­en­tial na­tional leader in im­prov­ing sci­ence and en­gi­neer­ing ed­u­ca­tion in the U.S. Dur­ing 2002 and 2003, he served as the first African-Amer­i­can pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can So­ci­ety for En­gi­neer­ing Ed­u­ca­tion.

While Gene is well known as a vi­sion­ary in en­gi­neer­ing ed­u­ca­tion, his con­tri­bu­tion to in­creas­ing the size of the pool of black men and women hold­ing en­gi­neer­ing de­grees is prob­a­bly his great­est legacy. He has over­seen the award of more en­gi­neer­ing de­grees to black stu­dents than any­one else — a laud­able achieve­ment.

But, most im­por­tantly, he demon­strated in Mary­land, which pro­duced a mi­nus­cule num­ber of black engi­neers be­fore he ar­rived, that there was much un­re­al­ized po­ten­tial in the young black pop­u­la­tion, and that with the right strate­gies, it was fea­si­ble to grad­u­ate sig­nif­i­cant num­bers of black engi­neers at all de­gree lev­els. De­spite the great ob­sta­cles he’s had to over­come, Gene has pro­duced a large cadre of grad­u­ates who will un­doubt­edly con­tinue to serve the state of Mary­land and the na­tion un­com­monly well. Ku­dos to a na­tional hero.

TIM SPERDUTO 2005

Eu­gene M. DeLoatch re­tired this year af­ter more than three decades as dean of the Mor­gan State Univer­sity School of En­gi­neer­ing.

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