Diverse Workforce Will Help Economic Growth

Magdy Attia serves as chairman of the council of deans at Johnson C. Smith University, a historically black college in Charlotte, N.C. In his more than two decades at the university, Attia has been the founding dean of the College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and the founding chairman of the computer science and engineering department.

Under his guidance, Johnson C. Smith University has ranked in the top 1 percent of universities that graduate African-American students in computer science and information systems for the last seven years. Attia discusses how Johnson C. Smith works to prepare students for a diverse workplace and the importance of diversity in achieving economic growth in the U.S.

What are the goals of the College of STEM?
To provide market-driven STEM programs that will support innovation, economic growth and national security needs in the U.S. In addition, [we aim] to place our graduates into new market-driven STEM graduate programs such as renewable energy, cyber security, homeland security, medical informatics, bioinformatics, robotics and information analytics.

How do you, and the university more broadly, work to reach a diverse student population?
Johnson C. Smith University is pioneering in recruiting, retaining and graduating female students in STEM. Almost 50 percent of our STEM students are female. It is about designing an appealing contemporary curriculum that is more diverse and inclusive to all genders. In addition, it is about creating a nurturing academic and professional environment that supports the student’s educational needs and motivates them for success in STEM.

What kinds of things do you, and JCSU, tell students before they enter the workplace? Is there any discussion about diversity-related difficulties students might experience?
They need to improve soft skills — working in teams, being team players and having excellent communications skills for oral and written communications — to be problem solvers and analytical thinkers. This is what we highly emphasize in addition to offering high-quality, nontraditional, market-driven curriculum. Success and excellence are the best tools to address diversity-related difficulties.

In your opinion, what’s the next big breakthrough for diversity in higher education?
As a nation, we will not be able to achieve national goals in economic growth and national security without diversity. Diversity is not for social justice. It is a requirement for the U.S. to keep the lead, especially in the STEM fields.

What is your favorite part about your job?
I do not see it as a job; it is a mission. Every day is different and brings new opportunities. That’s exciting and very special for me.

Jeffrey Cattel is an editorial intern at Diversity Executive magazine. He can be reached at editor@diversity-executive.com.