On a wintery morning in early January of 2009, days before President Obama was sworn into office as the 44th President of the United States, another African American history moment was set to take place. That day, Dr. Darryll Pines, Ph.D. took office as the 13th Dean of University of Maryland’s Clark School of Engineering.
In Pines’ opinion, his rise to lead Maryland’s engineering program, joining an elite club of African American Deans of top 20 engineering schools, was not “magical.”
Pines was born and raised in northern California. In 1986, Pines earned a Mechanical Engineering degree from the University of California Berkley’s School of Engineering (no. 3 nationally). From there Pines headed east to the Massachusetts Institutes of Technology engineering school (no. 1 in the nation) where he earned his masters and doctorate degrees in mechanical engineering.
Pines joined Maryland’s faculty as an assistant professor in1995, almost a decade after earning his undergraduate degree. From there, Pines rose up the ranks at Maryland, leading the University’s program to increase engineering Ph.D.-bound students of color (1996), then its program to recruit more women engineers (1999), and the Department of Mechanical Engineering (2006). Not all of Pines’ career was spent in academia. Pines also worked on a team at the Livermore National Laboratory that helped develop a spacecraft now in display at the National Air and Space Museum. Part of Pines’ time has also been in the corporate sector with companies like Chevron.
In an exclusive interview with the Afro American, Pines gives students and parents some straight talk on how they can pave their own paths to a six figure income through engineering.
Afro: With the recent celebration of Dr. King’s legacy, what’s been the impact of his message in the tech sector?
Dr. Pines: The impact of Dr. King’s dream in the technology fields has been a slow to evolve. While we are indeed graduating more minority engineers than every before, the pace of growth could definitely improve. One positive sign is that today, along with myself, there are African American Deans at several major top 50 engineering schools including Georgia Tech (no. 4), Illinois (no.6), and Cornell (no.8). We must pay particular attention to increasing our pool of graduate students and faculty of color. Community colleges can continue to play a very important role for minority students in offering a pathway to four-year engineering schools.
Afro: Of your 3500 engineering students, and 198 tenured and tenure-track faculty members, what’s your diversity break down.
Dr. Pines: We have 450 (nearly 13%) students of color, and 20 (10%) faculty of color.
Afro: Now are you including in those figures international students, because we understand that many university engineering schools are predominated by Asian and other non-native US students?
Dr. Pines: I cant give you exact breakdowns, but I can say that our graduate student population is approximately 60 percent international and 40 percent US. And our number of US-born graduate students has been increasing each year. At the graduate level, to increase our pipeline of native-US students, we have increased our efforts to recruit US students from numerous Historically Black Colleges and Universities. This past fall 2011, 17 percent of our enrolled graduate students were from underrepresented backgrounds.
Today, its not like the way things were when I started engineering school. Students of color early on just need a support network. Its not rocket science to getting accepted into engineering school. There’re lots of students in the pipeline in the Maryland, DC region. The question is can they close out and get into schools, and graduate. And I don’t really care if they come to College Park, I just want students, particularly African Americans, to go into science and engineering because we just need more scientists and engineers.
Afro: Once you get students of color in, what is your graduation rate?
Dr. Pines: Our graduate rate 56% which is impressive because the national average is 49%. We put our best professors in lower level classes. Once admitted, African American students can join the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) [the nation’s largest student organization], which provides internships, a network, and conferences. And there’s a sister organization for Latino students, the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. That starts the network, and I benefited from these networks myself. Today, some of the people I knew as students are running engineering programs in colleges across the country.
Afro: What is Maryland doing to help prepare its engineering school grads for the tough job sector?
Dr. Pines: If you’re a high school student debating what to study in college, and I told you that I could guarantee you a job making around $65,000 if you graduate from Maryland’s School of Engineering after graduation, I would be right almost 85% of the time (including acceptances in to grad school and the military). Maryland engineering school grads have no problem getting jobs, there is still a large demand for people to solve technical and non-technical problems.
Afro: Economists and others point to a decline in innovation in the US as the primary cause of the ongoing recession. What is the University of Maryland doing to reverse this trend?
Dr. Pines: Maryland has a reputation for helping to launch or create new businesses. Examples include Hughes Satellite Networks, MedImmune, and Martek Biosciences. In addition, Maryland added a second honors program curriculum in entrepreneurship for undergraduate students.
We’re also attached administratively to the Maryland Technology Institute (Mtech), which encourages faculty and students to launch firms, file patents, or work with corporations to translate their ideas into practice. And Mtech is not just for the University of Maryland family, but for anyone with a good idea for starting a tech business in Maryland. If we decide your business makes sense, we can offer you up to a year of near free housing, internet service, and administrative support to help launch your business [some businesses have been incubated for up to 18 months].
But given the economy, one has to be prepared for the reality that it’s more difficult to launch anything unless it’s a slam dunk.
Afro: How can an African American graduate of Maryland Engineering School or any other position himself to rise up the ladders of academia like you?
Dr. Pines: The people who head engineering programs around the country are all of my contemporaries. I knew them in undergraduate school. We’re African Americans who were afforded opportunities to go to top-tier undergraduate and graduate schools. After graduating, if you want to teach and if you do reasonably well, you are given a chance to be dean. With the right opportunity and right skills, you can succeed. I know its not that simple, but its not magical either.
I’d add to those junior faculty members seeking to become an engineering school administrator, its important to put yourself to get the attention of the school’s administration. A junior person must be willing to serve their university in a variety of roles to get noticed.
The writer can be reached at TKarim@teclawgroup.com.