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Virginia Tech College of Engineering honored for diversity progress

Virginia Tech College of Engineering
A high schooler builds a sumo-bot while visiting Virginia Tech during the Pathways for Future Engineers’ summer program, lead by the College of Engineering’s Center for Enhancement of Engineering Diversity.

The Virginia Tech College of Engineering is among the first in the country to earn a bronze award and only one of 29 institutions that received exemplar status from the American Society for Engineering Education in its inaugural year of their Diversity Recognition Program.

The program was created to recognize engineering and engineering technology colleges that make significant, measurable progress in increasing diversity, inclusion, and degree attainment outcomes of their programs, according to the ASEE website. The bronze level must first be earned before an institution can be considered for silver or gold recognition.

“I am proud of the work the college has been doing in the changing landscape of higher education, especially where equity and inclusion are concerned,” said Julia M. Ross, the Paul and Dorothea Torgersen Dean of Engineering. “We still have much work to do, but our efforts through the Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Diversity (CEED) under Bev Watford’s leadership provide a strong foundation and as a result, we are being recognized nationally in the engineering community.”

Recently, Watford was named the college’s associate dean of equity and engagement, one of the first roles of this type among U.S. institutions. Previously the associate dean of academic affairs and director of the Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Diversity, Watford will serve as the college’s chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer, focused on helping the college achieve and advance inclusive excellence at all levels.

For schools and colleges reporting to the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE), data indicates that 18 percent of all students enrolled in engineering undergraduate degree programs across the country are from underrepresented ethnicities/races. This includes schools commonly known as minority-serving institutions. By 2022, Virginia Tech seeks to increase its population of underrepresented and underserved undergraduate students to 40 percent, with a goal of creating a diverse campus.

In July, sixty-two high school girls visited Virginia Tech as part of an international summer exchange program designed to empower and inspire young women from the United States, Central Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa to pursue careers in science and technology. New to the 2019 program was a cybersecurity class and job shadowing technology professionals at Blacksburg businesses that included Qualtrex, Inc., Joba Design, and Block.One.

In 2017, the CEED program celebrated 25 years of providing encouragement and support for all engineering undergraduate students, with an emphasis on underrepresented and underserved students, assisting them in achieving excellence. The center supports numerous pre-college students, K-12 programs, peer mentoring, and connects undergraduates to industry and study abroad opportunities.

Engineering living-learning communities also help support students’ success in and out of the classroom, building a community of peers to assist with assignments, projects, and adjustment to college life, while offering encouragement and support in pursuing an engineering degree. First-year students, many of whom are underrepresented or first-generation, live in these residential environments among upper-class engineering students and have higher graduation rates, significantly reducing the “graduation gap” that exists between majority and underrepresented students.

In 2018, the May Family Foundation established a multiyear program, Pathways for Future Engineers, that aims to increase the number of first-generation students who enroll at and graduate from Virginia Tech. The Pathways program is one of CEED’s many pre-college programs that seeks to engage underrepresented high schoolers and their families to learn more about the collegiate experience and engineering field. This summer, 160 high schoolers and families visited campus to kick off the program. The first cohort will start their first year in fall 2020.

Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering is one of 10 national engineering schools participating in the A. James Clark Scholars Program, established by the A. James and Alice B. Clark Foundation to provide academic and financial opportunities for outstanding students from diverse backgrounds. The $15 million gift from the foundation is the largest scholarship donation ever made to the university. The college’s third cohort of students from diverse backgrounds will start this academic year.

In 2017, the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering honored Virginia Tech with the University Rising Star Award on behalf of the College of Engineering’s diversity efforts. The honor was bestowed upon an educational institution for its commitment to increasing the number of minorities in engineering.

ASEE’s bronze award was given to colleges and universities that signed and executed the ASEE Deans Diversity Pledge, developed in 2017, which seeks to institutionally transform issues of diversity, inclusion, and equity at engineering and engineering technology schools. Virginia Tech is one of 220 universities out of ASEE’s 330 member engineering colleges from around the country that pledged to:

  • Develop a diversity plan with the help and input of national organizations, such as the National Society of Black Engineers, the Society for Hispanic Professional Engineers, and the Society of Women Engineers.
  • Commit to at least one K-12 or community college pipeline activity with explicit targeted goals and measures of accountability aimed at increasing the diversity and inclusiveness of the engineering student body.
  • Commit to developing strong partnerships between research-intensive engineering schools and non-Ph.D. granting engineering schools serving diverse populations in engineering.
  • Commit to the development and implementation of proactive strategies to increase the representation of diverse groups in the faculty.

As part of the program, the goal of the ASEE pledge is to spur notable growth in diversity enrollment, retention, and graduation rates for engineering and engineering technology students and increase the diversity of faculty and workforce employment over the next decade.

Augusta Health Augusta Free Press Kris McMackin CPA
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