Community Colleges are the bedrock of the “American Dream!” A place where a waiter stumbles upon an Introduction to Engineering Class; enrolls, and ends up working for NASA, contributing to the design of the first helicopter to land on Mars. A place where a student takes a course and becomes the first female Latinx astronaut to go to space. A place where a working mother taking math and engineering classes finds inspiration and support to dream of one day becoming the CEO of an edible biodegradable plastics company.
As community colleges, this is who and what we are—the home of diversity and a place where “dreams come true.” These stories reflect the demographics of community college students nationwide: 55% from diverse ethnic backgrounds and 59% female in 2023.
Over 1000 community colleges provide both career education and transfer programs for over 6 million students in the US—about 40% of the nation’s undergraduate population. With open access and low cost—and typically serving local, challenged urban or rural areas—community colleges are a hub for diversity, equity and inclusion. They excel at creating diverse workforce pipelines through innovative career education and transfer programs that ensure upward mobility for all, but especially for those from historically marginalized communities.
Given their female majority student population and a disproportionate number of students who are underrepresented, first-generation, parents, veterans, adult or returning, working, and socioeconomically disadvantaged, we must ask: How well does our current societal and cultural infrastructure support retention and success of community college women in engineering and engineering technologies? Of female engineering faculty, administrators and staff at community colleges?
These questions—these needs—were the impetus behind the SWE Community Colleges Affinity Group. Started by Beth McGinnis-Cavanaugh (she/her, Springfield Technical Community College) and Dr. Rose-Margaret Ekeng-Itua (she/her, Ohlone College), the SWE Community Colleges AG aims to support and inspire students, alumna, and colleagues to become leaders and role models in their communities with a platform that provides advocacy, professional development, and community building.
In April, as we celebrate Community College Month, we invite everyone to advocate for community colleges by joining our AG to foster an equitable and inclusive “American Dream.” We need each other. Community colleges are integral to the diversity of the engineering workforce, which will benefit from the unique perspectives, experiences, and contributions that our students offer. STEM industry and professionals are key to maintaining a focus on community college women in engineering and building a community that promotes their preparation and sense of belonging.
In that spirit of community, let’s unite to keep the “Community College Dream” alive through allyship and supportive relationships. Join the Community Colleges AG on LinkedIn and Facebook. Complete our interest survey to join a working group or receive updates by email.
Let’s put the “community” in community colleges in April! #CCMonth