February is African American History Month

This week’s blog post is in honor of African American History Month and will be in similar format to our post back in November for Native American Heritage Month. Our SACNAS chapter is incredibly diverse, and unlike many other chapters across the country, we have several African American members. These next few posts will feature the story and experiences of one of these members, in following with the online community’s embrace of personal storytelling as a form of the expression of the diversity in sciences, such as #iamscience and This is What a Scientist Looks Like.

The African American Population

According to the 2010 US Census, 13.6% of the American population is Black or African American. This report also indicates that the African American population is growing at a faster rate than the population as a whole. The increase in the Black population (or any minority population for that matter) has ramifications for institutions such as higher education, which will see an increase in African Americans due to the growing population.

African Americans in Higher Education

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 9.8% of the bachelors degrees conferred in 2008-2009 were to African Americans.  7.8% of males who received degrees were Black, and 11.3% of females were Black. For doctoral degrees, 6.5% were conferred to Blacks; 4.6% of males were Black, and 8.3% of females were Black. There are several reasons for the underrepresentation of Black males in higher education, which this blog post will not address. Recently, Shaun Harper conducted a study on successful black males in academia by drawing from a samples of males who had already been successful. This approach to the study allowed for very interesting policy recommendations for universities to follow to increase the number of successful Black males on campus.

At the university of Washington, 2.6% of Bachelor’s degrees conferred in 2008-2009 were to Black students, 2.8% of Master’s Degrees, 1.2% of Professional Degrees and 1.2% of Doctorates were awarded to Black students. All of this is below the African American population of Washington state, which is 3.6%.

The African American Community at the University of Washington

Just over 40 years ago, several students from the Black Student Union took over president Odeggard’s office and this sit-in changed the way the University of Washington viewed diversity. It was this sit-in that led to the creation of programs such as the Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity and the Graduate Opportunities & Minority Achievement Program and the creation of the space known as the Ethnic Cultural Center.

The Black Student Union and Black Student Commission continues to have a strong presence on campus. Currently, the UW also has a National Society of Black Engineers Chapter, a Black Law Students Association, the Association of Black Business Students, and some students are starting a chapter of the National Black Graduate Student Association.

African Americans in STEM Fields  

According to the most recent data from the National Science Foundation, Black males are 4.6% of all enrolled undergraduate students in science and engineering fields in 2008. Women comprise 8.1% of students in STEM fields. Additionally, African Americans comprise 5.9% of all bachelors degrees awarded in STEM fields.

Blacks comprise only 6.4% of the national graduate student population in the sciences in 2009. For engineering, the number is only 2.9%. Black females comprise 8.4% of the female graduate student graduate population in the sciences and men are 4.4% of the male population. Black males are 2.1% of the population of both genders of those enrolled in graduate fields in sciences and engineering. Blacks comprised 3.1% of those granted doctorate degrees in science and engineering in 2009.

Our student spotlight for this post is an African American male in Engineering. Although he is not one of the respondents in Shaun Harper’s aforementioned studies, he very well could have been. You will also be hearing more from Keon himself tomorrow.

Student Spotlight: Keon Vereen

Keon Vereen
Major:  Aerospace Engineering
Year: 1st Year Graduate
Hometown: Orlando, FL
Ethnicity: African American

I am a PhD student at the University of Washington majoring in Aerospace Engineering. Within my department, I am working with the plasma physics group. My research interests are focused on advanced in-space propulsion, experimental plasma physics, and plasma thruster development.

I am also involved in educational outreach initiatives to promote diversity within the science and engineering fields.

When I have free time, I like to go for a swim or run as well as hang out with my friends.


One comment on “February is African American History Month

  1. DNLee says:

    Wow, these statistics are eye-opening. Thanks for highlighting the work of Keon Vereen.

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