Perseverance in Science and Life



May 6, 2015

Olester Benson, my friend and NACME Board Liaison, recently sent me a link to a National Public Radio interview he taped on the subject of ‘Embracing Failure in Science.’ Dr. Benson, a Corporate Research Scientist at 3M, discussed with the other guests the value of embracing failure as an essential part of the scientific process. The guests talked about how, in the history of science, failed experiments were not negative occurrences, but valuable lessons that helped scientists narrow down their search for the breakthrough discoveries that lay ahead. What was the takeaway from the program? ‘Don’t be afraid to fail…and keep on going.’ The idea can be summed up in one word: ‘perseverance.’

This spring, I have been invited to give commencement addresses in two very different parts of the county. On May 9th, I will be the Commencement Speaker for the University of Arkansas’ College of Engineering in Fayetteville, Arkansas. On May 19th, I will be the Commencement Speaker at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) in Newark, New Jersey. During the commencement at NJIT, I will also be honored with a Doctor of Humane Letters.

As I address the Class of 2015, I will be thinking about their perseverance. Many of these graduates hail from backgrounds that have been traditionally underrepresented in the engineering profession. Others are the first in their families to go to college. And all have successfully completed challenging coursework in science and engineering.

My advice to the students will be to retain that determination throughout their careers. During a recent speech to graduates, President Obama echoed these sentiments as well. “True excellence only comes with perseverance,” he said. “That wasn’t something I really understood when I was your age.”

In this issue of NACME Now, we take time to recognize members of our larger family who have received honors and reached milestones. We also announce Elizabeth Ross as our new Chief Development Officer. As a strong fundraising effort is vital to everything we do, Elizabeth will be playing a key role here at NACME. I hope you will join me in welcoming her.



My Visit to Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico (PUPR)


Wednesday, April 1, 2015

On March 17-18, 2015 I had the pleasure to stop in on the Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico (PUPR) family for a fabulous visit. I left the university energized, both spiritually and intellectually. I am a first-generation college student and a man of color. My entire academic career has been dedicated to creating opportunity for talented minds from humble circumstances to excel in higher education and beyond. PUPR provides such an opportunity for talented STEM students in a beautiful setting.

As always, the best part of my campus visits is the time spent with NACME Scholars and other underrepresented minority engineering students. Our NACME Scholars at PUPR are on the cutting edge of undergraduate research in engineering. The faculty, staff, and administration are focused on teaching and learning, and student success. PUPR has clearly designed a model of best practices in minority engineering education that I feel must be replicated if we are to succeed in realizing NACME’s vision of an engineering workforce that looks like America.

Dean Carlos Gonzalez, Associate Dean Cuauhtémoc Godoy, and I discussed the development of an Action Plan to delineate specific actions to be taken to strengthen the collaboration between PUPR and NACME.

I look forward to the next steps.

Photos of Dr. McPhail's visit to PUPR can be seen in the NACME Photo Gallery 

Response to President Obama’s “America’s College Promise Proposal”


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The recent announcement by President Obama that he would propose a plan to make the first two years of community college free comes as a major boost to energizing the community college pathway to engineering for all Americans, most especially underrepresented minorities (URMs). According to The White House Fact Sheet, the America’s College Promise Proposal aims to create a new partnership with states to help them waive tuition in high-quality programs for responsible students, while promoting key reforms to help more students complete at least two years of college.

NACME has been at the forefront of research, partnership, support, and policy on the community college pathway to engineering careers for URMs. My own background in academic leadership includes nearly 12 years as a dean, campus president, and chancellor at progressively more complex community college systems. Transfer programs in engineering science, and career programs in engineering technologies were hallmarks of the academic programs offered at each of these three community college systems: Wayne County Community College, St. Louis Community College at Florissant Valley, and The Community College of Baltimore County.

Specifically, NACME’s Community College Strategy has encompassed scholarship support for high school juniors and seniors to take calculus, physics, and introduction to engineering courses at their local community colleges in circumstances where those courses were not offered by the K-12 public school district; targeted transfer scholarships for engineering science students at community colleges who complete their associate’s degree and successfully transfer to bachelor’s degree programs at any one of NACME’s 51 Partner Institutions across the nation; a major study of NACME Scholars who began their post-secondary education in the community college that demonstrated higher GPAs and retention rates for community college transfer students; and a Lumina Foundation-funded grant to explore contextualized instructional models that utilize Problem-Based Learning (PBL) in intermediate algebra and pre-calculus courses, and that integrate engineering awareness, concepts, and skills. Our current efforts are focused on incentivizing best practices in engineering transfer and articulation between community colleges and NACME Partner Institutions in our regionally-based NACME STEM Integration Model sites.

Why is the community college such a vital partner in the national effort to increase the representation of African American, American Indian, and Latino women and men in engineering education and careers?

Nearly half of U.S. undergraduates enroll in community colleges. Community college students constitute 40 percent of first-time freshmen and 52 percent of American Indian, 45 percent of Asian/Pacific Islander, 43 percent of African American, and 52 percent of Latino undergraduates. For many of these students, a community college education is the gateway to a four-year college degree.

Although the collegiate function (transfer and liberal arts) of the community college has been well-documented, recent data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center showed the impact of the community college in providing an educational foundation for students who transfer successfully and earn a four-year degree1. The study showed that nearly 75 percent of the students who earned an associate degree and then moved to a four-year college graduated with a bachelor’s degree within four years of transferring. The report demonstrated the importance of tracking outcomes of community college graduates over a longer period.

Less well acknowledged is the role of the community college in the education of engineers in the U.S. Adelman revealed that 20 percent of engineering degree recipients began their academic careers at community colleges, earning a minimum of 10 credits from these institutions2. Data from the 2008 National Survey of Recent College Graduates (NSRCG) documented that 44.4 percent of recent graduates with bachelor’s degrees and 25 percent with master’s degrees in engineering attended community college3.

Analysis of the 2006 NSRCG data by Tsapogas showed that 64 percent of American Indian/Alaska Natives only, 5 percent of Black only, and 55 percent of Hispanic science and engineering bachelor’s and master’s degree recipients in 2004 and 2005, attended community college4.

I believe that this is a propitious moment to connect four strands that relate directly to the concerns about U.S. competitiveness in the flat world: 1) the fact that diversity drives innovation and that its absence imperils our designs, our products, and, most of all, our creativity—all components of competitiveness; 2) African American, American Indian, and Latino women and men remain one of the most underrepresented minority groups in engineering-related fields; 3) African American, American Indian, and Latino students are well-represented in the community college sector, although not in the STEM disciplines; and 4) community colleges are already essential to the education of engineers in the U.S.5

We agree that President Obama’s plan is a potential game-changer. Clearly, there is still much to know about this ambitious proposal before free community college tuition could become policy. NACME looks forward to working with all interested stakeholders to maximize the opportunity to produce more URM community college transfer students who successfully complete the bachelor’s degree and beyond in engineering.


1. National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. “The Role of Two-Year Colleges in Four-Year Success.” Last modified Spring, 2012.

2. Adelman, C. Women and men of the engineering path: A model for analysis of undergraduate careers. Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1998.

3. National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics. Characteristics of recent science and engineering graduates: 2008. Last modified July 15, 2013.

4. Tsapogas, J. The role of community colleges in the education of recent science and engineering graduates. Handout presented at STEM Conference, Montgomery College, MD: October 2007.

5. McPhail, Irving P., “Confronting the 'New' American Dilemma: A National Imperative for the Community College.” Community College Week, March 2013, 4. 

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Greetings and Happy New Year!

As we kick off 2015, I am delighted to welcome our phenomenal scholars back to their campuses.

The start of a new year is the perfect time to take a moment to visualize where you want to be, what you want to accomplish, and how you want to better yourself in the next 12 months. The start of a new year offers hope and endless possibilities. As always, I encourage all scholars to take advantage of every opportunity to shine and keep their eyes fixed on their goal of becoming the next generation of engineers.

As parents, families, and friends of NACME Scholars, or budding engineers in middle and high schools, I encourage you to help these students visualize a world in which these outstanding young people are taking the lead and creating the latest hot gadget, or are working to resolve some of the world’s most demanding issues. Over the last year, NACME has profiled scholars and alumni on our website and in our newsletter. While reading these profiles, one thing always stands out, each one of these outstanding individuals had someone who either guided or supported their path to an engineering career. Regardless of the source—family member, teacher, or friend—these individuals helped plant the seed of possibility and encouraged them to pursue their dream of becoming an engineer. I can only ask for everyone to do their part in spreading the word about STEM careers in 2015.

On the topic of the New Year, as an ambassador for the Department of Energy’s Minorities in Energy Initiative (MIE), I am delighted to announce that  NACME will be participating in  MIE’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service, 2015. Over the coming days, leading up to the January 19th event, NACME will be providing suggestions via social media on ways everyone can help spread the word about careers in energy and ways to engage the imaginations of students and get them excited about the endless possibilities that await our youth.

NACME will also take this effort a step further by dedicating space in our monthly newsletter to the energy sector. In this section, we will feature profiles on NACME Alumni working in the energy fields, share information regarding training, and skills development, as well as provide tips on energy efficiency, and share videos on energy literacy.



A Look Back at 2014

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The end of yet another year is quickly approaching, and that has inspired me to reflect on some of the outstanding accomplishments of 2014 in the life and times of NACME.

This year, NACME published the long awaited Engineer Something Amazing! suite of pre-engineering materials aimed at middle and high school students, teachers, parents and guidance counselors. The purpose of these materials is to generate awareness and excitement about the possibilities of an engineering career. These materials were created with generous support from the Northrop Grumman Foundation and the AT&T Foundation; and with the help of AT&T employees, as well as teachers and a cross section of students from the White Plains, N.Y., area. In addition to having these materials available as printed documents, we decided to make them a lot more accessible through our website, as downloadable documents. Since their completion, more than 400 people have downloaded these items and several thousand whole sets of these materials have been delivered to middle and high schools across the United States.

In the spring, NACME also published one of its most ambitious pieces to date, the 2013 NACME Symposium Research and Policy Journal. For this document, NACME transcribed statements and testimonies delivered by our special guests from our 2013 NACME National Symposium and asked for attendees to submit white papers on the challenges facing underrepresented minorities (URMs) in STEM education and careers. This report challenges existing paradigms and reframes the research-policy nexus for change and action in catalyzing the engineering pathway for our students.

In July, NACME moved into its new headquarters. Our new offices are still in the heart of White Plains, N.Y., the wonderful city that NACME has called home for well over a decade.

NACME as we know it began with the urging of minority leaders, business executives, the academic community, and leading corporations decided to pool their resources to achieve parity in the representation of minorities in engineering. By 1974, four loosely coupled organizations had been created to build the knowledge base and expertise to lead a long-term national effort:

  • NACME, the National Advisory Council for Minorities in Engineering, comprised of top-level industry executives who agreed to provide leadership and funding for the new initiative;
  • CME, the Committee on Minorities in Engineering of the National Academy of Engineering, to conduct research on the issues impacting minority participation;
  • ME3, the Minority Engineering Education Effort, to identify and recruit potential engineering students; and
  • NFMES, the National Fund for Minority Engineering Students, to provide much-needed financial aid.

In 1980, the loose coupling became a formal merger of NFMES and ME3 with legal incorporation under NACME. To signify the new organization’s expanded role, Advisory was changed to Action in its acronym. The original Advisory Council became NACME’s board and the new corporation assumed many functions of the CME. The mandate of NACME now the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering, Inc. was to conduct ongoing research, to identify the impediments limiting access to careers in engineering and to implement programs to achieve the technical workforce truly reflective of the American population.

In 1974, roughly 2 percent of the U.S. engineering workforce was composed of African Americans, American Indians, and Latinos. Today that metric stands at 10 percent. Clearly, progress has been made. However, that progress has been marginal at best; neither steady enough nor substantial enough for the representation of minorities to approach parity with their presence in the U.S. population.

NACME is, today, the largest private provider of scholarships for underrepresented minority students in engineering. We are extremely proud to have helped more than 24,000 young women and men with more than $142 million in scholarships and support during our first 40 years.

We met our fundraising goal of $1.2 million for scholarships at the 40th NACME Anniversary Awards Dinner & Celebration on October 15. I was completely overwhelmed by the announcement at the Awards Dinner that Hewlett-Packard Company was providing a seed grant of $50,000 to fund an investigative study to understand the competitive landscape and effectively meet the computing demands for underrepresented minorities in computer science careers. I am now equally delighted to announce that Bechtel Corporation has met the HP challenge with a $10,000 contribution.

The year 2014 also marked the end of the Connectivity 2015 strategic plan. The NACME Board of Directors is currently considering the next iteration of NACME’s vision, mission, and strategy—Connectivity 2020. With the support of our partners in this journey, NACME intends to raise the bar on execution-with-excellence with respect to our Core Key Results Areas (Scholarships and University Relations; Pre-Engineering Programs, including the Community College Pathway; and Research and Program Evaluation), Sustaining Key Results Area (Revenue Generation), and Supporting Key Results Areas (Strategic Communications, Organizational Sustainability, and Engineering Public Policy).

This has been a phenomenal year for NACME and I am eagerly waiting to see what 2015 will bring. I now wish you all Happy Holidays and a blessed New Year!


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