Aondover Tarhule, Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs, Illinois State University
Goal to Increase Underrepresented and Underserved Students in the Engineering Field
(January, 31, 2023) – First the promising news. A career in engineering can be like a golden ticket for a
lifetime of good pay, job satisfaction, employability and making a positive difference in the world. There
are few careers that rank as high as engineering on all the quality-of-life measures.
Now, the distressing news. According to federal government data, only 8.5 percent of recent graduates
from science or engineering program were Black. Only 1.5 of recent graduates were Black women.
One barrier is that getting into an Illinois public university’s engineering program can be tough,
especially for students from underserved areas of Chicago. There are just not enough seats. More Illinois
students are seeking engineering degrees than the current state public university system can meet.
That means Illinois is exporting engineering students to other states.
To meet this need, Illinois State University (ISU) is creating a College of Engineering in the heart of its
campus in Normal. Recently, ISU announced the appointment of the founding dean for the new College,
Dr. Thomas Keyser, who currently serves as the dean of the College of Engineering, Technology and
Management at Oregon Institute of Technology. Dr. Keyser will begin his role on April 1.
The vision for the new college is unique and transformational. It is being designed with an equity lens to
help close long-standing gaps in enrollment, retention, and graduation of underrepresented and
underserved students in the engineering field.
“There is a critical need to diversify the STEM pipeline and ensure that more educational opportunities
are available to students who have been historically underrepresented and underserved in engineering
education,” said Aondover Tarhule, ISU Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs. “Illinois State’s
College of Engineering will work to change the landscape of engineering education, promote workforce
development, and address a critical market need for more engineers.”
The new College of Engineering will include the Department of Electrical Engineering and the
Department of Mechanical Engineering with degree programs in electrical, mechanical, and general
engineering. University leaders are working to develop curriculum, hire founding department chairs,
and renovate existing campus facilities to accommodate classrooms, labs, and study spaces for the
college. The college is expected to enroll its first class of students in Fall of 2025.
In a way, history is repeating itself. In 1857, ISU was founded to fulfill an acute need of another kind.
Thousands of children were not receiving an education because there were not enough teachers in the
workforce. Here again, 166 years later, ISU is seeing a need and working to meet it.