Penny Lawrence | Staff Writer

NC State recently rose in the rankings for “Top Producers of Minority STEM Graduates” by “Diversity Issues in Higher Education” magazine.

The list ranked NC State 24th for minority graduates earning bachelor’s degrees in engineering, 36th for master’s degrees in engineering and 15th for master’s degrees in mathematics.

According to “Diverse Issues in Higher Education,” NC State had a 21 percent increase in graduates for bachelor’s degrees in engineering, with 264 total minority graduates during the 2014-2015 academic year. Georgia Institute of Technology ranked first, with a total of 628 minority graduates.

Dr. William Ditto, the dean of the College of Sciences, was pleased with the news but acknowledged that NC State still has more work to do.

“We’d like to get those numbers to where they should be, representative of the population, but you don’t do that in a mechanical, dispassionate way,” Ditto said. “It doesn’t work if you aren’t genuine.”

Dr. Jamila Simpson, assistant dean for academic programs, student diversity and engagement for the College of Sciences, attributed the increase to better academically-prepared students.

“Every year the SAT [scores] and GPAs of our incoming students increase,” Simpson said. “I believe we are seeing a combination of very academically prepared students and a campus which is eager to academically engage these students as well as culturally support them while they are here.”

Ditto also commented on the effect of learning environments and student support systems.

“The political climate has made things difficult for minorities,” Ditto said. “If we create a culture where either you don’t feel accepted or you don’t feel like you’re genuinely accepted, you’re going to know it real fast and you’re not going to want to be there. You’ll be uncomfortable or you won’t be as successful. What always works is to build trust, is to build an environment where everything we do reinforces that.”

NC State has a long timeline surrounding its inclusivity of minorities on campus and in STEM programs.

In 1953, the first two African-American graduate students were admitted into the School of Engineering.

September, 1956 brought the first four African-American undergraduates admitted to the university. One of these students was Irwin Holmes, who went on to become the first African-American undergraduate student to receive a degree from the university in May, 1960.

In 1994, the American Indian Science and Engineering Society was established to advocate for the admission and inclusion of American Indians in science and engineering programs.

“We need to make sure that all people feel empowered to pursue STEM careers to answer the challenges our society is facing,” Simpson said. “When you open up STEM to everyone, you have scientists answering more questions, and hopefully addressing obstacles that impact all walks of society.”