On a wintery morning in early January of 2009, days before President Obama was sworn into office as the 44th president of this country, another African-American history moment was set to take place. That day, Dr. Darryll Pines, 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, number three nationally. From there Pines headed east to the Massachusetts Institutes of Technology engineering school, number one in the nation, where he earned his master’s 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, he 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.

He 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.

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 slow to evolve. While we are indeed graduating more minority engineers than ever 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 3,500 engineering students, and 198 tenured and tenure-track faculty members, what’s your diversity breakdown.

Dr. Pines:
We have 450 (nearly 13 percent) students of color, and 20 (10 percent) 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 can’t 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, it’s not like the way things were when I started engineering school. Students of color early on just need a support network. It’s 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.

Once you get students of color in, what is your graduation rate?

Dr. Pines: Our graduate rate 56 percent which is impressive because the national average is 49 percent. We put our best professors in lower level classes. Once admitted, African American students can join the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) , 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.

The writer can be reached at TKarim@teclawgroup.com.