University Democrats host Associate Engineering Dean for talk about diversity

Dean John Gates speaks about the University’s history as well as its future with diversity

Gates announced at the meeting that he is a finalist for the position of vice provost and clinical professor of organizational behavior at Purdue University. Richard Dizon | Cavalier Daily

During their first meeting of the semester last Wednesday evening, the University Democrats hosted John Gates, the associate dean for diversity and inclusion, to speak about his work to improve diversity within the Engineering School.

When Gates first arrived at the University, one of the largest problems he said he saw with the School of Engineering was the disparity in grade point averages between black students and the rest of the class. In 2018, African-Americans made up around 4.5 percent of Engineering students, while white students made up approximately 52 percent. The percentage of African-Americans in Engineering was lower in 2018 than it was in 2009, when it was approximately 5.6 percent. 

During the talk, Gates pointed out that in 2017, only 40 percent of black students in the School of Engineering had a GPA above a 3.0, compared to 85 percent of white students and 76 percent of Hispanic students. 

According to Gates, the first semester GPA is predictive of a student’s final GPA within one-tenth of a point — which is why he found these statistics alarming.

“When I talk with students, they come to U.Va. with tremendously high aspirations and yet the outcomes of students differ tremendously upon entry to U.Va.,” Gates said at the meeting. “African-American students, Hispanic students, students from rural areas often need a longer runway to acclimate into the environment of U.Va. … what I find is that tremendously high achieving students from high school, from different demographics, get here and perform substantially less well.”

Through his experience as a dean, Gates also noticed a trend of black students concentrating in Engineering Science — which he said was the School of Engineering’s only unaccredited major, with the lowest outcomes and graduate program participation.

To combat this issue, Gates called on the University’s Office of Diversity and Engagement to launch a $1 million research and intervention project — the largest project of its kind in the United States — to address the achievement gap in science, technology, math and engineering at the collegiate level. Additionally, this research project is being followed by the Department of Defense and the National Science Foundation. Now in its fourth stage, the project is undergoing deep psychosocial and behavioral analysis. The final stage will be for design and intervention — and will be completed next year. 

“I think [the University] certainly has the capacity to become more diverse,” Gates said. “If you think about the graduation rates [in the School of Engineering], we blow the nation out of the water here. If more prospective students knew that — that they were twice as likely in Engineering as black students to graduate from U.Va. with an engineering degree and than almost any other institution — they would want to come. We have to tell the story and so far we have not told the story.” 

According to third-year College student and University Democrats president Jackson Samples, this is not the first time the student group has hosted Gates. He spoke to the club in 2016 regarding race and diversity at the University within the context of the presidential election.

“His work has been incredible in that he has turned the issue of strategic diversity into a major priority of the Engineering School,” Samples said in an email statement. “He is very engaged with the student body, which I think has helped to give a greater platform for students’ thoughts on tangible issues of race and diversity.”

Gates announced at the meeting that he is a finalist for the position of vice provost and clinical professor of organizational behavior at Purdue University and will be leaving the University this week.

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