You are hereConversation with African Americans in STEM : Morgan State University's Dr. Eugene M. DeLoatch, Ph.D
Conversation with African Americans in STEM : Morgan State University's Dr. Eugene M. DeLoatch, Ph.D
The 1960’s was a decade of firsts: the first heart transplant surgery was performed and the science fiction series Star Trek made its TV premiere. For African Americans, this period ushered in the first generation of those who dreamt of becoming engineers and scientists with the quest of putting men, and women, on the Moon, in real life.
Dr. Eugene M. DeLoatch was amongst those whom dared to dream of space travel at a time when Dr. King was working to ensure that African Americans could freely travel on earth.
When less than 0.5% of all engineers were African American, Dr. DeLoatch, the son of a paper mill worker in Nyack, NY, was inspired to follow his dream, and today stands as the founding Dean of the Clarence M. Mitchell, Jr., School of Engineering at Morgan State University as well as the Chairman of the Council of Dean’s of Engineering of the Historically Black College and Universities. At Morgan State, Dr. DeLoatch has spent the past 28 years producing a generation of engineers that have aided the nation’s leading tech companies as well as government agencies like NASA.
In an exclusive interview with the Afro American, Dr. DeLoatch gives advice to parents and students alike on how to turn dreams into reality.
Afro: What or who inspired you to become an engineer, and ultimately the Dean of Morgan State University’s School of Engineering?
Dr. DeLoatch: There were two people. I was a sophomore in high school when a teacher asked me had I ever considered being an engineer due to my love for mathematics and sciences. It was then that I decided to become an engineer.
After high school, I got a track scholarship to go to Tougaloo College in Mississippi, which didn’t have an engineering program. However, the school had a relationship with another college [Lafayette College] with an engineering program. Thus, in five years, I had a mathematics degree [from Tougaloo] and an Electrical Engineering degree from Lafayette College.
When I graduated, I got a job with an engineering firm in Binghamton, NY making more money [in a year] than my father made in 10 years. There, a secretary, who wasn’t African American, asked me why weren’t there more Negros in [our] company as engineers. It [the question] triggered something in my mind. I knew a lot of people who were like me, who could be engineers but who did not know about [the field]. That’s when I decided to step up to the plate [to become an engineering educator].
Afro: You literally built Morgan State University’s Clarence Mitchell Jr., School of Engineering. Tell me more about your school.
Dr. DeLoatch: I’ve developed a program that has produced a generation of engineers. Today, we are the largest producer of African American Electrical Engineers in the country; every two years we are the largest producer of Civil Engineers in the Country. Each year, we are ranked the third or fourth most productive of institutions graduating African American engineers overall (behind GA Tech, North Carolina A&T). We produce 50% of all the AA engineers in the state of MD.
Afro: What is your largest department, where do many Morgan State University Engineering grads work after completing their studies?
Dr. DeLoatch: Our electrical engineering program is our largest. Lockheed Martin, the Navy, Department of Transportation, and Maryland state government are the big employers of our graduates. Also, 25% of our students each year are opting for graduate school. We have students at some of the top engineering doctorial programs in the nation including MIT and Georgia Tech.
Afro: Some African American engineers complain about barriers standing in their way in the corporate world. What is Morgan State doing to train its students on how to overcome these barriers?
Dr. DeLoatch: I believe there is a problem; the glass ceiling is still there to some degree. However, this is not an overnight process. If you don’t get the proper mentoring it’s going to be difficult to break that glass. The way that corporations work, you have to have a champion [to advance].
Our hope is that more of our grads will move up the ranks as the need for a diverse population becomes more accepted in the corporate world. Currently 70% of all science and technical jobs are held by white males, yet they are 36% of population. This over-proportional representation of white males is not sustainable. The issue that I found when I came out of school in 1959 still holds to a lesser degree; today only 5% of all engineers are African Americans.
Afro: What is the level of support that you get from the State versus the University of Maryland at College Park?
Dr. DeLoatch: Our mission is to take young people where they are, and mold them into engineers. That’s the difference between us and College Park which is oriented toward research.
The difference is also spelled out by the numbers, 900 vs 3000, our student population versus Maryland’s. Maryland charges more tuition, and gets more money from the state. This is one key reason Morgan has a much higher student faculty ratio. Thus, our faculty has less time to dedicate to research, grant-writing, and other interests.
Afro: The University of Maryland focuses a great deal on training its students to become tech entrepreneurs, what courses and other programs do you all have in this area?
Dr. DeLoatch: We have a new degree program in the school of business that offers a bachelor’s degree in entrepreneurship. Seminars [in entrepreneurship] are also available for our engineering students. Some engineering students who get involved in undergraduate research also aspire to one day own their own business. The big missing element in this equation is angel investing.
To solve this issue serve on the Board of Directors of the Maryland Technology and Economic Development Corporation, which is dedicated to funding start ups [out of Morgan State and other institutions]. Yet, the capital we can offer is not close to what it has to be. We have a long way to go as African Americans to learning the [entrepreneurial] process and getting access to capital.
Afro: In closing, what’s your elevator pitch to students, perhaps in elementary and middle school, and their parents, to get them excited about engineering careers?
Dr. DeLoatch: I tell them this is a liberating profession. I say if you graduate from my school, you are likely to come out making $60,000-$70,000 [annually], much better off than those majoring in other disciplines who graduate with a degree and no job. For parents, I say if we can get our young people into the stream of engineering study, they can come out making good money, pay taxes, and we don’t have to worry about the next generation from these students. Yet, to succeed in engineering [like in other fields] people have to be able to believe in themselves.
April 11, 2012
by Talib I. Karim