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The Top Schools for Hispanics 

By Bruce E. Phillips 

What are the best schools for Hispanics who want to pursue a degree in engineering? One way to gauge "best" is to look at the numbers. For us, that means answering this fundamental question: Which schools are graduating the largest number of Hispanic students?

The National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering, Inc. (NACME; http://www.nacme.org) has looked at minority graduation rates for institutions of higher education. Of the 21 universities in the continental U.S. that graduated the most Latino engineers in the class of 1996-97, six are designated as Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs). HSIs are defined as colleges or universities with at least 25 percent Hispanic enrollment. About two-thirds of all Hispanic college students attend HSIs.

The Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU; http://www.hacu.net) has identified 209 HSIs in the continental U.S. and Puerto Rico, 41 of which offer bachelor's degrees in engineering or engineering-related technologies. 

According to NACME's 1996-97 report, the six top HSIs in the continental United States in number of Latino engineering graduates were Florida International University (141 graduates), University of Texas - El Paso (105), New Mexico State University (70), Texas A&M University - Kingsville (63), the University of New Mexico (48), and University of Texas - Pan American (44). When U.S. territories are included in the calculations, the University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez and the Universidad Politécnica de Puerto Rico graduate by far the largest number of Hispanic engineers.

1. University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez

The University of Puerto Rico's School of Engineering in Mayaguez (http://www.uprm.edu) boasts the largest number of Hispanic engineering students in the United States. The public university has 4,600 engineering students, according to Andres Calderon, Ph.D., the associate dean of engineering. Dr. Calderon says the university is "lucky" to have the best high school graduates on the island because of the popularity of its programs.

"Ours is a five-year program, and because of this, we can give students a broader education than other schools," Dr. Calderon says. And, he adds, "industry is telling us they appreciate this."

2. Universidad Politécnica de Puerto Rico

The Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico (http://www.pupr.edu) is the second largest engineering school for Hispanics and the largest private school, with nearly 3,800 engineers enrolled in 1999-2000. Dean of Engineering Carlos Gonzalez, Ph.D. says this is true in part because of the high caliber of faculty members, half of whom are licensed professional engineers, and the flexible class schedule, which runs from 8:00 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. and on Saturdays, making it easier for students to attend.

3. Florida International University

Like UPR and Politécnica, the engineering schools that are most popular with Hispanics in the continental U.S. also are located in regions with large Spanish-speaking populations to draw from. At Florida International University (http://www.fiu.edu), in Miami, 55 percent of the students are Hispanic. Engineering is one of the most popular majors on campus, with 6 percent of students enrolled in the program. Vish Prasad, Ph.D., dean of engineering, says FIU produces the most Hispanic engineers on the mainland in part because, "We make minority students feel at home. We also do a good job of outreach."

4. University of Texas - El Paso

University of Texas - El Paso (http://www.utep.edu) enrolls 9,243 full-time students, 72 percent of them Hispanic. Carlos Ferregut, Ph.D., chair of the civil engineering department, says the university works hard to provide access for minorities and promote high standards of excellence.

"A large majority of the faculty is involved in research," Dr. Ferregut says. "Undergraduates as well as graduate students get to work closely with the faculty."

This gives students a chance to do their own research, he says: "Undergraduates get the chance to write original papers and present them at conferences."

5. New Mexico State University

At New Mexico State University, in Las Cruces (http://www.nmsu.edu), nearly 40 percent of engineering students -- and 50 percent of freshmen in engineering -- are Latino. Jay Jordan, Ph.D., dean of the Department of Engineering, says the university is a place that welcomes minorities and makes them feel at home. Furthermore, he says: "Our engineering graduates have earned the respect of employers" because of their quality of education and because employers "like the work ethic of our students."

To encourage interest in science and engineering studies, the university has an active outreach program. Dean Jordan explains: "We start with middle school students by offering them a summer program to get them interested in engineering. This helps them make the right choices in math and science during high school."

6. Texas A&M University-Kingsville

The campus at Texas A&M University-Kingsville (http://www.tamuk.edu) reflects the demographics of the area, with 61 percent of the students Hispanic, 27 percent white, and 5 percent African American. Phil Compton, Ph.D., dean of the Frank H. Dotterweich College of Engineering at Texas A&M University-Kingsville, explains: "We are very fortunate to be in a region that serves a prominently Hispanic population and have worked hard to ensure our student population is similar. We also have been successful in providing support services to our primarily first-generation college students." 

Dean Compton says the faculty of Texas A&M University-Kingsville recognize the value of "teaching through research" and provide undergraduate students the opportunity to become involved in a wide variety of research projects.

7. University of New Mexico

At the University of New Mexico, in Albuquerque (http://www.unm.edu), 33 percent of the full-time students are Hispanic. Joseph Cecchi, Ph.D., dean of engineering, says the university has a very strong commitment to engineering education and has programs that are designed carefully to provide a high standard of training. In addition, he explains, "Our program is extremely research intensive. This enhances the quality of education, giving students hands-on experience. And we work to recruit the best faculty."

He stresses that the department's courses are always current, because they are built around a faculty that is on the cutting edge of research.

Dean Cecchi emphasizes that the university has "a strong commitment to diversity in all dimensions" and offers support programs to help enhance the graduation rate and advancement of students.

8. University of Texas - Pan American

Located just 20 miles from the Texas-Mexico border, University of Texas - Pan American, in Edinburg (http://www panam.edu), boasts a total student body that is nearly 90 percent Hispanic; in the engineering department, 84 percent of the 687 students are Hispanic. The university offers bachelor's and master's degrees in electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, and manufacturing engineering and has 360 students in computer science. Edwin LeMaster, Ph.D., interim associate dean and director of the School of Engineering and Computer Science says he believes UTPA's location helps students develop a special cultural sensitivity that many employers find appealing.

"Our graduates are in demand by global businesses in part because they are bilingual and bicultural," Dr. LeMaster says.

For More Information

Whatever their choice of schools, a growing number of young Hispanic students are discovering a career in engineering gives them the freedom and the power to, quite literally, create America's future.

To learn more about opportunities in engineering, you may contact the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities. The Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes extensive career information at their site, http://stats.bls.gov. We also recommend reading "America's Best Colleges," published by U.S. News & World Report each year.

Bruce E. Phillips can be reached at BPhillips@ccgmag.com.

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