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Rose-Hulman is Accelerating its Drive to Become a Multicultural Community

December 19, 2014

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Aggressive Goals: By 2020, Rose-Hulman would like women to represent a third of the annual freshman class, and double the number of African-American students on campus. (Photo by Shawn Spence)

When Chemistry and Biochemistry Professor Luann Tilstra, PhD, walks across campus these days, she likes what she sees.

“Twenty years ago, every face I saw was a white male face. Now, I see black, brown, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean faces. I see women. I see men. I see clusters of people talking about something, and they don’t all look alike or speak the same language,” Tilstra says. “Diverse groups are working together in problem solving.”

Tilstra, director of Rose-Hulman’s Center for Diversity since its launch in 2011, says the college has made tremendous strides in improving the diversity of its student body.

“We are on a very steep curve of improving our climate of respect and understanding,” she says, adding that eventually she would like there to be “no dominant culture.”

Tilstra’s view is common throughout Rose-Hulman. From the board of trustees to administrators, faculty, staff, and students, there is energy around the goal of improving campus diversity.

Progress Being Made in Several Areas 

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Diversity A Priority: Leadership believes Rose-Hulman must become more diverse in order to retain its national reputation and corporate recruiting. (Photo by Chris Minnick)

During the last five years, Rose-Hulman has doubled the number of international and Hispanic-American students, and increased its population of women and African-American students. But the school has a long way to go before it reflects the diversity that corporations need for their engineering teams of tomorrow.

“When the environment gets to the point where we have all dimensions of diversity in the student body, faculty, and staff—when it feels natural and is expected—that will be a signal that we have crossed the threshold,” says trustee Darin Moody, a 1987 chemical engineering alumnus who is vice president of corporate engineering at Eli Lilly and Company.

Rose-Hulman’s leadership believes that the school must become more diverse in order to retain its No. 1 ranking as the nation’s top undergraduate engineering school, and to maintain corporate recruiting. Further, the school can’t prepare its students to work in diverse teams unless it exposes them to multicultural experiences as undergraduates.

“The quality of life has improved immeasurably by adding diversity to the campus,” says Jim Goecker, vice president for enrollment management and strategic communication. “Our students are exposed to different kinds of viewpoints and have the opportunity to interact with different kinds of people. Our graduates are working in a very diverse world, so being educated in that kind of environment is incredibly important.”

Rose-Hulman is gaining traction in the Hispanic-American community, where the school’s family-oriented message resonates, and the institute exceeds the national engineering average when it comes to women, who represent 22 percent of the 2014 Rose-Hulman freshman class.

Goecker has aggressive goals for further improving campus diversity. By 2020, he would like to see women represent a third of the freshman class. Other goals are to double the number of African-American, Hispanic-American, and multiracial students.

“These are real stretch goals, but ones I believe we can attain,” Goecker says.

Alumni Blaze Trails for Diversity 

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Industry Advice: Trustee Darin Moody, an alumnus and vice president of corporate engineering with Eli Lilly and Company, contributed to a recent diversity summit with executives from leading Midwest technology companies. (Photo by Shawn Spence)

Alumni who were trailblazers while at Rose-Hulman are helping transform the school by changing attitudes, along with the gender and racial makeup of the student body.

Improving diversity is “important for the long-term prosperity of the school,” Moody says. He adds that Rose-Hulman needs to close the gap with other engineering schools that are doing a better job at recruiting a diverse student body. For example, Harvey Mudd College’s Class of 2018 is 47 percent women and 60 percent non-white.

“If you believe that Rose-Hulman has a role to play as a leader in defining the future of what engineering and science education, then we must set the standards with a very diverse faculty, staff, and student body,” Moody says.

Trustee Warren Mickens, vice president of operations at CenturyLink, came from an all-black high school in Gary, Indiana to become the only African-American in Rose-Hulman’s 1977 graduating class. He finds that the ethnically diverse students on Rose-Hulman’s campus today are just as driven as he and his classmates were in 1977.

“Despite the lack of diversity in the old days, if you bought into the Rose-Hulman model, it worked,” Mickens says. “When you look at the campus today, it’s still all about quality people and performance. It’s the same kids. They just look a little bit different.”

Dexter Jordan, associate director of admissions and multicultural recruitment, says Rose-Hulman’s track record of retaining and graduating students from underrepresented populations put the institute in a good position to reach its goals.

“We are trying to reach that critical mass of students of color so that when students come to look at Rose-Hulman, they will feel comfortable with the atmosphere here,” Jordan says.

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