John Brooks Slaughter talks new book on African-American engineers

Slaughter is co-editor of “Changing the Face of Engineering,” on history and future of African-American engineers

Dr. John Brooks Slaughter

Dr. John Brooks Slaughter

John Brooks Slaughter, co-editor of the newly released book Changing the Face of Engineering: The African-American Experience (Johns Hopkins University Press), sat down with Inside Higher Ed to talk about the history and lasting legacy of African-American engineers.

Slaughter, who has a joint appointment at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering and spent two decades as an engineer before going on to become the first African-American director of the National Science Foundation, argued that the contributions made by African-Americans to the field of engineering are frequently underrepresented and, consequently, undervalued. “Throughout history, African-Americans have provided noteworthy inventions and products that have made our lives safer, healthier and more comfortable,” Slaughter contended, citing Elijah McCoy’s automatic car lubricator and Garrett Morgan’s three-way traffic light. Despite their importance, these contributions to the field of engineering are often overlooked.

Not only have African-American contributions to engineering been historically undervalued, but also only 1 percent of today’s baccalaureate engineering graduates identify as African-American. Slaughter insisted that a more diverse faculty is necessary in order to attract more African-Americans to the field. “The percentage of African-American engineering faculty in predominantly white colleges and universities is approximately 2 percent and…is a major reason there are so few African-American students entering doctoral programs in engineering.”

Moving forward, Slaughter said he hopes readers of Changing the Face of Engineering will not only educate the public about the many contributions African-Americans have made, but also encourage young African-Americans to consider pursuing a career in engineering.