50K Coalition Reaches Goal Five Years Early

The power of collective leadership proved to be the greatest factor in ensuring that a diverse body of 50,000 U.S. students earned engineering degrees.

By Laurie A. Shuster, SWE Editor-in-Chief

The 50K Coalition reached its goal of graduating 50,000 diverse U.S. students annually with bachelor’s degrees in engineering — five years early.

The coalition, formed in 2015, is the brainchild of a leadership circle representing the nation’s foremost diversity engineering membership organizations, which together serve more than 85,000 precollegiate, collegiate, and professional members. The organizations include the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, the National Society of Black Engineers, the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, and the Society of Women Engineers. They were joined in their effort by more than 60 institutions and companies. The coalition received more than $3.1 million in grant support from the United Engineering Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the A. James & Alice B. Clark Foundation, Shell, and Terracon toward fulfilling this objective.

Their goal: Ensure the graduation of 50,000 new engineers from historically underrepresented groups, including women, per year in the United States by 2025. The initiative was meant to meet the growing demand for engineers in practice while also countering the lack of representation in the field by women and people of color. In late 2023, the coalition announced that more than 51,000 diverse students had graduated with engineering degrees in 2020 — the first time in the nation’s history.

Source: 50K Coalition 2023 Impact Report, November 2023 (https://50kcoalition.org/50k-coalition-impact-report/).

In The 50K Coalition 2023 Impact Report, the organization stated, “Beyond accomplishing our 50,000 diverse engineering graduates goal, together, we have fostered an ecosystem of support, mentorship, and opportunity that empowers aspiring engineers from underrepresented backgrounds to thrive and succeed. Ultimately, the coalition’s collective commitment to diversity in the engineering field has driven change that will undoubtedly shape the future of engineering for generations to come.”

“The sharing of best practices among the organizations made it possible for those best practices to be leveraged and for the goal to be met early,” said Kimberly D. Douglas, Ph.D., SHPE chief research and impact officer. “By forming the 50K Coalition, relationships were built across our organizations and with many other partner organizations. The power of the collective is the greatest contributor.”

The members of the coalition promoted their goal by:

  • investing in undergraduate support and retention efforts,
  • establishing programs to link community colleges to four-year universities,
  • promoting math education for K–12 students,
  • fostering an inclusive culture within engineering in their organizations,
  • lowering financial barriers to obtaining a bachelor’s degree in engineering,
  • engaging in targeted recruitment strategies,
  • facilitating transfers from minority-serving institutions,
  • developing on-campus support groups, and
  • increasing diversity in engineering clubs and chapters.

“Joining the 50K Coalition and [its] leadership circle was an easy decision because it was so aligned with SWE’s mission,” said Karen Horting, CAE, SWE executive director and CEO, in the report. “While I am excited that we have achieved our goal earlier than we thought possible, I am more excited about the relationships SWE has built with the other diversity engineering organizations.”

The success of the effort was somewhat imbalanced, with the percentage of women and Hispanic people earning engineering degrees increasing at a faster rate than for Black or Indigenous people (refer to the chart). Some of these differences can be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic’s uneven impact on Black and Indigenous people, according to the report.

“Our work isn’t done,” Horting said. “We will continue to work together as a community to increase diversity, inclusion, and belonging within the engineering profession.”

Although the coalition is now disbanded, the four leadership circle organizations, along with the Women in Engineering ProActive Network, are continuing their relationships through their involvement in SWE’s Women of Color in Engineering Collaborative. The WCEC was recently awarded a $5 million grant from the National Science Foundation Equity for Excellence in STEM program to increase the engagement and retention of women of color in engineering. (Read “Collaboration Nets Major Support for Women of Color in Engineering” in the SWE Magazine Winter 2024 issue.)

“The strong relationships that were formed, the mutual support and mutual respect, have us uniquely positioned to work together effectively … to contribute to the success of professional women of color,” said Dr. Douglas.

1 Diversity and STEM: Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities 2023, National Science Foundation.