Legislators Take Action on Diversity in Engineering

 

May 2010

NSPE TODAY
Legislators Take Action on Diversity in Engineering

BY SARAH OGDEN

The dearth of women in engineering is well known within the profession, but now the issue is gaining recognition on Capitol Hill.

In March, NSPE joined 16 organizations in cosponsoring the Society of Women Engineers' "Diversity and Inclusion Fuels Innovation in STEM" Capitol Hill Day. The event opened with a congressional reception whose attendees included engineers Senator Ted Kaufman (D-DE) and Representative Paul Tonko (D-NY). NASA Administrator Charles Bolden Jr. also attended. NSPE President Sam Grossman, P.E., F.NSPE, and Vice President Christopher Stone, P.E., F.NSPE, met with Reps. Tonko and Jerry McNerney (D-CA) to discuss the importance of diversity in the engineering profession and other engineering issues.

Rep. Tonko, who worked as an engineer at the New York Department of Transportation prior to becoming a public official, serves on the Education and Labor Committee and its Higher Education, Lifelong Learning, and Competitiveness subcommittee; and the Science and Technology Committee and its Energy and Environment, Research and Science Education, and Technology and Innovation subcommittees. Rep. McNerney is a wind engineer who serves on the Energy and Commerce Committee and its Energy and Environment and Communications, Technology, and Internet subcommittees.

The vigilance of NSPE, SWE, and other organizations in raising the profile of the engineering profession on the Hill has resulted in legislation that would encourage women to enter the engineering profession. Last year, Sen. Kaufman led the charge with a request to include funding in the FY10 Agriculture Appropriations bill to increase participation of women and underrepresented minorities from rural areas in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) professions. The final appropriations law included $400,000 to fund research and extension grants for women and minorities in STEM fields at land-grant universities serving rural areas.

In a "Dear Colleague" letter in support of the funding, Senators Kaufman, Daniel Inouye (D-HI), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), and Mark Begich (D-AK) wrote, "The underrepresentation of so many groups in STEM fields is troubling, as diversity is widely acknowledged to spur innovation and creativity?. We believe that investing in programs that help us improve and promote diversity in STEM fields will also make our economy more competitive in the long run."

Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) has introduced the Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering Act (H.R. 1144). The bill's premise is that "unintentional biases and outmoded institutional structures are hindering the access and advancement of women in science and engineering." The measure would authorize federal science agencies to hold workshops to educate federally funded researchers about methods to minimize gender bias in the evaluation of federal research grants and in the related academic advancement of the recipients of these grants. It also would develop a policy to extend research grant support and interim technical staff support for federally funded researchers who are caregivers. It would further require federal science agencies to collect and report annually to the National Science Foundation standardized information on their grant recipients. The bill has yet to garner bipartisan support.

For more information on the Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering Act and other bills NSPE is tracking, please visit the NSPE Legislative Action Center at  www.capwiz.com/nspe.