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Engineering diversity program enjoys continued success

J.R. Swanegan, engineering’s diversity director, talks with students at a pizza party he hosted at the beginning of the year to encourage minority students to join the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers(SHPE).

“I’m really excited about significant number of outstanding minority engineering students coming to Mizzou, largely due to program incentives we’ve been able to put into place,” said J.R. Swanegan, diversity director with the University of Missouri’s College of Engineering.

Preliminary enrollment figures for the 2010-2011 academic year show that even with the overall growth in student numbers within the College of Engineering, the percentage of minority students has increased.

Swanegan said there were a total of 116 diversity students in 2008 when he first came to Mizzou Engineering, and the latest figures show that number has risen to 175 – over seven percent of the entire student population.

“Freshman diversity makes up 13 percent of the incoming class, up from seven percent in 2008,” said Swanegan.

The college’s diversity scholars program provides scholarships for students in underserved populations – African American, American Indian and Hispanic – with “strings attached” requirements to increase student success. Recipients must annually attend three professional and academic seminars, take part in the college’s career fairs, join in scheduled visits to corporations and participate in mid-semester progress checks aimed at early intervention in the case of academic difficulties.

Additionally, Swanegan’s recruitment efforts have included targeted outreach to students in Kansas City and St. Louis and he has connected with high school guidance counselors participating in national engineering initiatives such as “Project Lead the Way” and after school robotics programs.

“It has been helpful to talk to these captive audiences of students who have an interest in engineering,” said Swanegan, adding that the college’s Diversity Summer Camp has been another pipeline for engineering students. “We’ve been able to provide scholarships to the camps through corporate support of the program.”

“The best team is a diverse team, and industry is constantly asking for a more diverse student body,” said Lex Akers, engineering’s associate dean for academic programs. “Our success in attracting these students is due largely to J.R.’s personal initiative. He has a vision, and I couldn’t be more pleased with his success.”

“Students are flourishing here,” said Swanegan. “The GPA of diversity sophomores last semester was 3.3, and juniors averaged 3.265. We have a quality program and excellent faculty and staff. I’m excited to be part of this successful team.

“This is a really big deal in whatever context you look at it. The quality of the students is at the highest level,” Swanegan said.

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