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Advocate of Business Education for Minorities Extends Reach to Engineering

One of the nation’s best known minority-focused business education outreach programs is leveraging nearly three decades of experience to launch two summer institutes to lure talented high school students into engineering careers.

The Philadelphia-based LEAD (Leadership Education and Development) program, which has traditionally provided intensive learning summer experiences for high school students, is expanding into the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education arena with the LEAD Summer Engineering Institute (SEI), three-week residency programs that will be based at Georgia Tech and the University of California at Berkeley this summer. 


 “We are encouraged by the successes of several programs that target minority students for STEM immersion. The present challenge is to make this movement as far-reaching as possible, and we believe LEAD’s framework is the best means of profoundly influencing the educational and professional choices made by minority students,” says Richard Ramsey, the LEAD president and CEO.

The SEIs will be supported by $1.3 million in donations from Google and DuPont. Each SEI will enroll 30 students who have completed their sophomore year of high school, according to LEAD. Although the SEI has largely targeted underrepresented minorities for participation, the program is open to all students regardless of race or ethnicity.   

LEAD’s move into engineering education represents the organization’s response to the national crisis over the struggle by the United States to produce engineering graduates at a competitive rate with the world’s leading economies as well as the ones in emerging nations like China and India. The new program builds upon the foundation of the LEAD Summer Business Institutes (SBIs), which are now located at 10 top business schools, including Stanford University and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. Since 1980, roughly 7,500 academically talented students, most of whom are minority, have studied at the SBIs.

“One thing we’ve learned inside of LEAD is that some 65 percent of our alumni are currently working in the business field, but there’s about 22 percent of them that actually go on to engineering and then the balance to a variety of career professions,” Ramsey says.  

Recognizing the engineering interest among past LEAD participants as well as the growing STEM education concern by the federal government, U.S. corporations, and numerous national organizations led Ramsey and his staff to evaluate whether LEAD could effectively contribute to growing the pool of students seeking STEM education.

“One thing LEAD has that many other programs do not have is great access to the top students, and that access has been built over these 28 years that we’ve been in existence,” Ramsey explains.

“So after that evaluation, we then took it to my board of directors and said, ‘Let us look to address this area because we have an expertise that can be of value to the broader base initiative.’ So that’s when we decided to move forward into LEAD engineering,” he says, adding that LEAD expects to launch additional SEIs in the next several years.

Dr. Felicia Benton-Johnson, the director of diversity and K-12 programs in the College of Engineering at Georgia Tech, says she and Georgia Tech officials suggested the SEI target rising high school juniors and to have those students return as rising seniors for a second summer program.

“We believed that exposure over two summers would make the institute far more effective at persuading students that they could be successful in pursing engineering,” she says.

She adds that at Georgia Tech the students will gain considerable exposure to a variety of engineering fields, particularly those related to the creation of alternative energy sources. Alternative energy will be theme of this summer’s institute at the Georgia Tech campus.

“We want the students to have learning experiences with solving real world problems that have social and economic implications for society,” Benton-Johnson says.

“Despite efforts to improve the public’s understanding of engineering, studies show that K-12 students generally do not have a clear understanding about what engineers do,” says Dr. Don P. Giddens, the dean of Georgia Tech’s College of Engineering.

“Exposing high school students to exciting and innovative experiences through programs like the LEAD Summer Engineering Institute will serve to inspire and attract young people to future careers in engineering,” he notes.

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