Last week, I was in Anaheim, California to attend the Hispanic Engineer's National Achievement Award Conference (HENAAC) as I have for the last several years now. HENAAC's mission is "to enlighten our nation about the achievements of Hispanics in engineering, science, technology, and math; to motivate and educate more students to pursue careers in these fields; [and] to increase the role the Hispanic community plays in maintaining America's status as the world's technology leader." At its annual conference, HENAAC honors Hispanic engineers and scientists with awards in a variety of categories. I was named Hispanic Engineer of the Year in 2001 and in 2004 was inducted into the HENAAC Hall of Fame.
Like blacks and other minorities, as well as women, Hispanics are under-represented in science and engineering, both at the employment and educational levels. There are lots of statistics that illustrate this problem, such as in this recent, very comprehensive National Science Foundation report on "Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering: 2004." Hispanics constitute over 13 percent of the US population, but hold just 3.5 percent of all science and engineering jobs that require a bachelor degree or higher. Hispanics represent 10.5 percent of all undergraduates, but roughly 6 percent to 7 percent of engineering enrollments. This under-representation is particularly serious if one considers the projected growth of the Hispanic population in the US, in particular the projections for the college age (19 - 24) Hispanic population over the next several decades.
HENAAC is addressing these major issues through a variety of educational programs to attract Hispanic students to science and engineering careers. For example, the Viva Technology Program is aimed at inner-city and rural K-12 students, teachers and parents to stimulate their interest in technology and its application. The Scholars Program, funded by private sector companies, will award over 80 scholarships in 2005 to undergraduate and graduate students pursuing careers in engineering and science. The annual conference includes a Career Fair and students from all over the country are given travel and registration grants so they can participate in the conference, and attend the Career Fair and other student activities.
In my blogs, I have been writing about the increasing importance of technical talent. As technology now permeates all aspects of business, government, health care, education and our personal lives, a growing number of products, services and solutions in the marketplace will involve technology in one way or another. Jobs in a number of new, growing areas will require a technical education as we work to support an efficient, high quality health care infrastructure, provide digital entertainment of all sorts, or become part of globally integrated industries and economies. Technical talent is essential to innovation in the 21st century and to any nation that aspires to a position of leadership in the world.
That is why there is such a focus on the health of science and engineering (S&E) in the US. For example, just this week, the National Academies released a new report that says ". . . U.S. advantages in the marketplace and in science and technology have begun to erode. A comprehensive and coordinated federal effort is urgently needed to bolster U.S. competitiveness and pre-eminence in these areas . . ." and offers a concrete set of recommendations for addressing its findings.
Another recent report from the National Science Board concludes that: "[The US] college-age population will increasingly be made up of minority group members, such as Hispanics, blacks, and American Indian/ Alaskan Natives, whose current participation rates in S&E are half or less than those of white non-Hispanic students. As lower proportions of white non-Hispanic men obtain S&E degrees, the importance of women and minorities pursuing degrees in these fields rises."
It's clear that efforts like those of HENAAC to make careers in science and engineering more attractive to Hispanic students are really important not just for the US Hispanic community, but for the Nation as a whole.