News Column

A Plan – and a Helping Hand

September 2006, HISPANIC BUSINESS Magazine

Patricia Guadalupe


While a commitment to diversity might seem natural for the universities appearing in this year's report on graduate programs in business, engineering, law, and medicine, what really seems to set the top schools apart is the environment they create for their Hispanic students.

As an example, take a look at the engineering program at the University of Texas at El Paso, located on the border between the United States and Mexico and at the top of our list of engineering schools. Nearly 75 percent of UTEP's students are Hispanic, and almost a third of those are in the engineering program.

The high numbers of Hispanics help make the school a nurturing place, says Alina Nunez, engineering graduate program advisor at UTEP. A UTEP engineering graduate herself, Ms. Nunez told Hispanic Business she never felt discriminated against or that she didn't belong at the school. "There is a lot of support here and a lot of access. You never feel like you are a 'minority' and out of place."

A March 2006 policy brief from the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center reported that Hispanic students "often describe graduate school as a place where they feel invisible like outsiders or imposters." As a result, according to authors Tara J.Yosso and Daniel G. Solorzano, the students may "doubt their academic abilities, question the value of their scholarly contributions, and reconsider their decision to pursue a graduate degree."

Top 10 Schools for Hispanics:
LAW Schools
MBA Schools

Ms. Nunez's positive perception of UTEP illustrates how universities can counter those obstacles.

The National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering has called the UTEP program "a model" for engineering institutions and praises its focus on helping low-income students succeed in graduating in a field where only a tiny percentage are Hispanic. Studies show that while Hispanics represent 13 percent of the U.S. population, fewer than 5 percent have engineering degrees, and an even smaller percentage have a master's or doctorate in engineering.

That's a situation that UTEP says it wants to change. "As a Ph.D. student, it is very important to have access to your faculty advisor and I see mine everyday," says student Jorge Villalobos, who is working on a doctorate in civil engineering infrastructure systems. "My peers at larger institutions say they go weeks and even months without seeing their advisors." Mr. Villalobos, who also received his bachelor's from UTEP, adds, "Even as an undergraduate, I had two articles published and I worked in a lab for two years. That's not something you get everywhere."

"The amount of research that students are doing is very high and professors appreciate the work," Ms. Nunez says. To keep costs down, the university has also implemented an undergraduate tuition guarantee plan in which tuition and fees stay the same for four consecutive years. The UTEP engineering program also has begun a joint B.S./M.S. program in which students can earn both degrees in five years.

Building a sense of welcome is not just a construct of engineers. Future attorneys at our top campuses also report a sense of belonging.

"This is an inviting place for Latinos," says John Feldman, assistant dean of career and student services at the University of New Mexico Law School. "There is a vibrant community and a vibrant population of Hispanics. It's a ready-made community."

New Mexico has the highest percentage of Hispanics of any state, and a majority of UNM students identify themselves as Hispanic. "We have many role models for the students; Latino faculty, Latinos in high-ranking positions in the judiciary in the state. Students find that there are good examples that they can follow," Mr. Feldman says.

Among the Hispanic faculty at the law school, 86 percent has tenure. Mr. Feldman also points to the small classes that foster greater student-faculty interaction.

The welcome extends to the curriculum. Despite its small size, UNM offers a variety of courses of specific interest to Hispanic students, including classes on immigration law, the rights of indigenous peoples, international business transactions, and other international law courses, including an exchange program, the Summer Law Institute in Guanajuato, Mexico.

A similar tack classes of special interest to Hispanics and a campus that makes an extra effort to be welcoming is seen at Los Angeles' Southwestern Law School, No. 8 on this year's list.

"What incoming Hispanic students say about us is that they are immediately integrated into a welcoming and active community," which includes an annual "Bienvenido Brunch" sponsored by the dean, and a host of networking events by Latino lawyers in Los Angeles, says associate dean and professor Christopher Cameron. Some of the courses at the law school include foreign affairs and the U.S. Constitution, Mexican legal institutions, international business, Latin American laws, and race and the legal system.

"Hispanic students at Southwestern beat out students from every other local law school, including UCLA and USC, in claiming the largest share of scholarships awarded by the Mexican American Bar Foundation," adds Mr. Cameron, who is also an expert in employment and immigration law.

Universities in the Sunbelt might be expected to be more Hispanic-friendly, but research by Hispanic Business finds that even in what was once known as the Rust Belt the situation is improving, especially as Hispanic populations grow across the Midwest. While nine of this magazine's top 10 in medicine and law are in Sunbelt states in particular Florida, Texas, and California only half of the business schools and six of the engineering schools are in those states.

California's Stanford is the only university to appear on all four of the Hispanic Business top 10 lists, leading the pack in medicine and business. The University of Texas at Austin appears on three lists, and while it doesn't have a medical school, four other University of Texas campuses with one San Antonio, Galveston, Dallas, and Houston do make an appearance.

In the Midwest, Michigan State University is sixth on Hispanic Business's engineering list and leads the Big Ten system which actually includes 11 universities in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin in minority enrollment.

"The university as a whole and the engineering department is very committed to diversity and affirmative action," says Barbara O'Kelly, coordinator of the Engineering Graduate Diversity program at MSU. "There is a very strong support system here, and there are numerous people students can go to for assistance. There is also a strong minority student community, and very active programs with the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers."

Hispanics and other students of color in the engineering department are also helped to feel welcomed into the department and the greater MSU community with a program underwritten by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation that helps students with housing and other concerns.

Of course, while open arms and wide smiles are fundamental to the success of populations that traditionally have been underrepresented in critical education areas, a commitment to academic excellence and a pathway to employment after graduation matter to all students. Our top schools shine here, too.

The University of Texas at Austin's engineering program boasts world-renowned faculty and research facilities, in addition to a career assistance center where students post resumes and companies do the searching based on key words contained in the student's information. Other universities are instituting similar centers.

"We also have a number of programs for minority students to make them feel welcome in this large environment," says Cindy Brown, assistant dean for business affairs in the College of Engineering.

The Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley has a unique program that began in 2003, the Center of Responsible Business. It seeks to integrate "social corporate responsibility" into the business program and the subsequent practices of its graduates, or, as the school puts it, "a new generation of business leaders."

"We have a reputation of activism and a reputation of giving back to the community," says Jhett Pihakis, MBA program admissions director. "We are among the smallest of the top-ranked programs in the country, and our community is tight-knit and collaborative. Our commitment to diversity is also a very important part of our program."

At Berkeley, the focus isn't just top-down. Students are also active participants in business diversity, each year sponsoring a Diversity in Business conference, which brings academics and business leaders from around the nation to talk about "best practices" for successful businesses in a diverse community, such as leading and managing diverse communities, and entrepreneurship and diversity. This year's conference will be held in October. (For more information, visit

Diversity extends to the geography of business, a key attribute for students interested in reaching out to both the Hispanic world and to booming markets in China or India. Berkeley's master's in business administration program offers a certificate in Global Management, and our top-ranked business school for Hispanic students, Stanford University, offers a similar certificate. "As a business school, our small size also offers a personalized approach and greater attention," says Eric Abrams, director of diversity initiatives at Stanford's business school. The school also offers a specialty in entrepreneurship.

An analogous program is offered at the nationally ranked Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, number three on the list of top business schools for Hispanics. The Allwin Initiative for Corporate Citizenship at the business school highlights case studies in community development, affordable housing, and social service, among others.

Getting a student into school is only half the battle, and our top schools also do what it takes to ensure that when they leave the campus, it's with a diploma in hand. In that respect, in the list that follows it's helpful to look not only at the enrollment by Hispanics in any given program, but also how that percentage compares to the percentage of eventual graduates with advanced degrees.

At the University of Miami's Miller School of Medicine, for example, while 16 percent of its enrollment is Hispanic, an impressive 23 percent of its M.D. degrees are earned by that population a retention success story that reflects on its self-described mission to instill "cultural competence" in its students.

At Michigan State, Ms. O'Kelly says that the MSU graduate-engineering program has a very high retention rate. "Ninety percent of minority graduate students in engineering get their degrees."

Noting that the industry has observed an "alarming" shortage of engineers, particularly Hispanics, she pleaded: "We need you. We need you as country, as a society."

Source: HISPANIC BUSINESS Magazine and, Copyright (c) 2006 All Rights Reserved.

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