How Berkeley Engineering launched three Black AAU presidents


When Reggie DesRoches assumes the presidency of Rice College on July 1, he’ll develop into the fifth Black chief of a prime analysis establishment.

He will even be the third Black president within the 65-member Affiliation of American Universities who attended the UC Berkeley Faculty of Engineering, together with Gary Might, now the chancellor of the College of California, Davis, and Darryll Pines, president of the College of Maryland, Faculty Park.

The three males pursued completely different disciplines at Berkeley and overlapped for under a short while within the mid-Nineteen Eighties. However they credit score the establishment with supplying the coaching and assist community that launched their remarkably related trajectories.

“For all of us, [Berkeley Engineering] supplied a basis of excellence and information that we’ve been in a position to take ahead in our careers,” Pines stated.

Every man rose to the highest of his discipline: Might in electrical and pc engineering, Pines in mechanical engineering, and DesRoches in civil engineering. All three served as engineering college deans—Pines and DesRoches on the establishments they now lead, and Might at Georgia Tech. All three have been named to the distinguished Nationwide Academy of Engineering and now head up giant analysis universities.

No matter position Berkeley Engineering performed of their success, nonetheless, it’s clear in talking to them and others that their expertise signaled not the ascendancy of Black college students in STEM however reasonably “a novel second on the college,” as DesRoches put it. “There was a powerful inhabitants of each Black engineering college students and Black graduate college students. It was only a particular time once we had been there.”

By the late Nineties, a mixture of anti–affirmative motion laws, funds cuts and shifting priorities amongst new leaders at Berkeley decimated efforts to recruit and graduate underrepresented minority college students.

“All these issues had a chilling impact on the matriculation of Black college students in engineering—notably on the graduate stage,” stated Might. “I’m not saying our expertise couldn’t be replicated, however it might be more durable at present.”

Buddies and Mentors

When DesRoches entered Berkeley as a freshman in 1985, Pines was a rising senior who mentored him and different younger Black engineering college students. Might arrived the next 12 months to earn his grasp’s and Ph.D., however as chair of the Nationwide Society of Black Engineers, his status preceded him.

“Gary was a giant man on campus,” Pines stated. “We had been all nobodies, however Gary had migrated to the highest of the group. After which he exhibits as much as Berkeley in January, we’re like, ‘Wow, we obtained the president at our college.’”

The three met by means of the Black Engineering and Science College students Affiliation (BESSA), which held occasions and maintained an workplace on campus the place Black college students frolicked. Might helped set up a sibling group often called BGESS, for the Black Graduate Engineering and Science College students.

BESSA and BGESS complemented the rigorously constructed minority engineering program (MEP) Berkeley had developed to assist Black college students succeed. This system was grounded in workshops, primarily based on mathematician Uri Treisman’s model of fostering collaborative downside fixing to assist college students from underprivileged backgrounds grasp the fabric collectively.

“The entire work was the mixing of educational and social spheres,” stated Toni Torres, a 1981 Berkeley graduate who was employed by then Faculty of Engineering dean Karl Pister to run workshops for minority college students. “These workshops weren’t nearly doing the maths; this was a coming collectively of a scholarship group, it was creating their tutorial id and sense of belonging, making a group that was engaged of their success and the success of their friends. And due to that cascade mentoring, you at all times had position fashions.”

For DesRoches, that meant Might and Pines.

“After I was a first-year pupil making an attempt to determine my method, they had been each position fashions for me,” DesRoches stated. “There was simply this tradition of seniors and graduate college students kind of trying down on the younger people saying, ‘Hey, you guys have gotten to stay it out. You guys want to consider graduate college.’ And Gary would cease by the workplace on campus, simply to speak to college students. There was this unbelievable tradition round supporting one another.”

The mentors benefited as a lot because the mentees.

“It was lonely,” Might recalled. “There weren’t that many people. That was a giant motivator for me, simply to be round those that have related backgrounds and struggles and points.”

Darryll Pines, a Black man wearing glasses and a blue suit. He has a University of Maryland pin on his lapel.Pines remembers being in a freshman statics class and noticing a few of his white classmates poring over a thick binder of notes, which he found had been the statics exams and downside units from the final decade, handed down by means of a frat home.

“These guys wouldn’t even come to class, they usually had been like, ‘Oh, I obtained an ideal rating [on the exam],’” he stated. “And I killed myself to get an 89. In order that they’ve been dishonest in a way. And that is a part of the issue: while you’re an individual of coloration, you’re not related to the community.”

The MEP sought to construct a community for college students of coloration. Sheila Humphreys, who served as a director of variety at Berkeley Engineering within the Nineteen Eighties and Nineties and have become the primary tutorial director of graduate outreach, attributes this system’s success to 2 key components: unwavering administrative assist, emanating from the late Dean Pister, and a complete, whole-student strategy.

“The entire thought was to have persevering with assist from the second college students obtained there by means of commencement,” Humphreys stated, starting with summer season “bridge” applications and freshman boot camps.

As director of graduate outreach, Humphreys even performed a job in admissions, advocating that this system settle for Ph.D. candidates from HBCUs and different establishments that Berkeley Engineering didn’t usually draw from.

Kamau Bobb, who earned his undergraduate and grasp’s levels from Berkeley Engineering starting in 1990, says he drastically benefited from having mentors of coloration—together with Might and DesRoches, who stays an in depth good friend.

Lots of the grad college instructors “had been themselves Black and brown college students,” stated Bobb, now senior director of Georgia Tech’s Constellations Middle for Fairness in Computing. “So our introduction to calculus, physics, chemistry, introductory [mechanical engineering] and CS and [electrical engineering] was by means of our personal people. And their sort of sensibilities and all these issues that you simply’d count on had been inbuilt.”

The Finish of Affirmative Motion

All the things modified in 1996, when California handed Proposition 209, which banned preferential therapy primarily based on race, intercourse, ethnicity or nationwide origin in public employment and education.

“Prop 209 was a giant win for white supremacy,” stated regulation professor David Oppenheimer, director of the Berkeley Middle on Comparative Equality and Anti-Discrimination Regulation. “It achieved precisely what its promoters needed: to make sure that applications that had been efficiently bringing extra college students of coloration to the College of California would fail, and that the outcome can be fewer folks of coloration in management positions in authorities and business.”

“That that was the loss of life knell for the [minority engineering] program,” stated Torres. “Folks actually struggled to determine maintain the mechanics of this system while you couldn’t actually goal college students for participation in the identical method.”

Throughout the college, the share of Black freshmen enrolled fell from 6.7 p.c in 1995 to three.7 p.c in 1998, finally plateauing at round 3 p.c. At this time Black college students make up about 4 percent of Berkeley’s undergraduate inhabitants.

Knowledge from Berkeley Engineering don’t separate Black college students from different “underrepresented minorities,” which embody Native American and Latino college students. However an evaluation by Fiona Doyle, a former engineering professor, discovered that freshman enrollment of underrepresented minorities dropped by greater than 40 p.c between 2005 and 2009, from 10.4 p.c of the category coming into in 2005 to six.2 p.c of the category that began in 2009.

Tsu-Jae King Liu, the present dean of engineering, stated that following the passage of Prop 209, the variety of Black undergraduate engineering college students fell by about 1 p.c—a decline that remained largely flat till lately. Knowledge present that within the 2021–22 tutorial 12 months, underrepresented minorities made up 20 p.c of engineering undergraduates, although simply 8 p.c of graduate college students.

“That is truly the primary 12 months that we ended up with a better proportion than even earlier than Prop 209,” Liu stated.

College students and school tried to compensate for Prop 209 by establishing MEP-like applications, such because the Middle for Underrepresented Engineering College students (CUES). However sustaining momentum proved tough. As a public establishment, Berkeley couldn’t supply the sort of monetary support its personal counterparts may, so it misplaced certified candidates to establishments equivalent to Stanford and MIT. Doyle’s report famous in all caps that in 2009, “Engineering had THE LOWEST YIELD OF UNDERREPRESENTED FRESHMEN OF ANY UNIT ON CAMPUS.”

Regardless of vehement opposition from college students, Berkeley merged CUES with Engineering College students Providers, a broader pupil assist group, in 2009.

“CUES served a really small cross-section of our college students,” stated Liu. “And in order that’s why it was built-in—plus, Prop 209 made it harder to justify. A number of the minoritized college students who benefited most from that program most likely felt that we had been decreasing some assist for them. However the thought was actually to be extra inclusive and supportive of all college students to succeed.”

Caleb Bugg, who lately accomplished his Ph.D. at Berkeley Engineering and is now doing a postdoc at Georgia Tech, understands the administration’s place.

“It’s not like I feel the folks within the Faculty of Engineering are evil; they’re simply unfold so skinny,” he stated. “There’s an all-Black group; it’s working effectively. After which folks say, that you must herald different people who find themselves additionally oppressed not directly. So, after all, you wish to carry them in, too, however …”

He notes that BESSA and BGESS, the Black affinity teams that nurtured Might, Pines and DesRoches, are as robust as ever. Bugg, who served as a vp of BGESS, estimates that roughly 70 or 80 of the 110 members frequently confirmed as much as occasions.

However with out funding, administrative oversight or tutorial teaching, they continue to be largely student-run social organizations, and Bugg believes they might be a lot extra.

“The true energy of those organizations is us being uncovered to different folks’s analysis and different folks’s work to the purpose the place you may say, ‘I may see an all-Black analysis group doing work that goes in a serious journal, and that’s not bizarre to me, as a result of I noticed it in graduate college,’” he stated.

The Way forward for Black STEM Students

Pines, who grew up in Oakland, graduated Berkeley in 1986 and moved throughout the nation to attend graduate college at MIT. Might and DesRoches studied and labored collectively for years at Berkeley, after which later at Georgia Tech, the place Might helped DesRoches get his first school job.

However the three males remained in contact, by no means forgetting the sense of group and risk they discovered as engineering college students at Berkeley.

At this time they continue to be dedicated to making sure a sturdy pipeline for future STEM students of coloration.

“We all know how to do that,” stated Might. “There are tons of, possibly hundreds of applications which have been profitable. However they’re not knitted collectively in any affordable method. And there’s no consistency from 12 months to 12 months. Most of those applications rely upon charismatic management versus a nationwide crucial or nationwide will to unravel the issue. So I take advantage of the Bush 1,000 Factors of Mild metaphor: there’s a thousand factors of sunshine right here, however no constellation.”

Might and Pines serve on the Nationwide Academy of Engineering’s newly fashioned Committee on Racial Justice and Equity.

“What we’re doing now’s making an attempt to align these applications, so there are some synergies that make it simpler for people to go from undergrad to grad to scholarship funding,” stated Pines. “As Gary has stated, diversifying STEM basically is a nationwide crucial. If the federal government desires the USA to nonetheless be on the forefront of STEM education, and subsequently expertise accomplishment and contributions, we have to put money into numerous populations and do this nationally.”

Among the many steps they suggest: making a nationwide STEM scholarship program primarily based completely on want, and establishing a nationwide database of underrepresented STEM college students at each stage of their profession.

Greater than 35 years after the three presidents related at Berkeley, their legacy nonetheless looms giant—on the campus and past.

“I met Gary Might lately. He’s been an idol of mine for a really very long time,” stated Bugg, who aspires to be a school president.

“The work that Gary, Reggie and Darryll did, whereas they had been at Berkeley and after, helped create the surroundings that may enable the subsequent technology of American engineers and scientists to see that they, too, may do one thing related, that they, too, have a proper to be in these areas, that they, too, can assist create and mildew not simply American society, however the world writ giant,” stated Ryan Shelby, who obtained his grasp’s and Ph.D. from Berkeley within the 2010s and now works for USAID in South Africa. “The work that these guys did in addition to their expertise there helped form and mildew the subsequent technology, and I’m dwelling proof of that.”

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