National Institute on Aging

Study Reveals Obstacles Faced by Black Men in Doctoral Programs in Engineering

A new study led by Brian A. Burt, an assistant professor in the School of Education at Iowa State University, examines the experiences of Black men in doctoral programs in engineering. The six-year study found that for Black men in these graduate degree programs, race was a greater obstacle than they expected.

Dr. Burt and his coauthors – Krystal Williams of the University of Alabama and William Smith of the University of Utah – found that Black men in Ph.D. programs in engineering faced difficulties as a result of structural inequalities and a lack of support from faculty and colleagues. Several common themes detailed structural racism within the university, which led to unfair treatment, unwelcoming environments or isolation, and unnecessary strain on Black graduate students. These factors significantly affect a student’s ability to succeed, Dr. Burt said.

“There’s an assumption that students drop out of an engineering program because they couldn’t cut it. That the problem is an individual flaw,” Dr. Burt said. “Our research shows the main challenges these students faced were beyond their control. They were systemic, structural, historic and rooted in a legacy of science that is counterproductive for broadening student participation in STEM.”

Dr. Burt is a graduate of Indiana University, where he majored in secondary English education. He holds a master’s degree from the University of Maryland and a Ph.D. in higher education from the University of Michigan.

The full study, “Into the Storm: Ecological and Sociological Impediments to Black Males’ Persistence in Engineering Graduate Programs,” was published on the website of the American Educational Research Journal. It may be accessed here.


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