Speaker to address diversity in engineering education

November 20, 2017
Dr. Deborah Kuzawa
Kim Sargent
Dr. Dong Isbister

What do diversity and inclusion imply for engineering education in increasingly diversified campuses and workplaces today? How does this help campuses envision ways of fostering an environment that appeals to prospective students and respects and supports all individuals?

To discuss diversity and inclusion topics and how they relate to engineering education, the University of Wisconsin-Platteville will host the lecture “More than Recruitment and Outreach: Culture and Climate in Engineering” on Monday, Dec. 4 in Room 144 Ottensman Hall from 6-7:30 p.m. All are welcome.

The lecture was planned and implemented by the university’s College of Liberal Arts and Education’s Women’s and Gender Studies program and the College of Engineering, Mathematics and Science’s Women in EMS program.

Dr. Deborah Kuzawa, senior lecturer in the Department of Engineering Education and chair of the department’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee at the Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, will discuss how diversity and inclusion can be central to both the academic and social dimensions of engineering education, from coursework to advocates and allies’ programs.

“In engineering education, diversity and inclusion may be buzzwords, but the overall focus tends to be diversity and integration, placing the burden of change and knowledge-building on underrepresented individuals and groups,” said Kuzawa. “The result is the ‘leaky pipeline,’ where an increase in majors from underrepresented groups does not cause an increase in engineering workplace diversity or impact engineering culture.”

Kuzawa, who has been teaching rhetoric-based writing and communications courses at universities and in the community for 15 years, explained that, if engineering education makes diversity and inclusion an explicit pillar in curricula and classrooms, there is the potential to improve engineering culture for not only underrepresented groups but for everyone, and increase the overall diversity and strength of engineering disciplines.

Kim Sargent, program manager in the Women in EMS program at UW-Platteville, noted that, currently, about 15 percent of engineers in the United States are women and about 18 percent of people who earn an engineering degree in the United States are women. She said that numbers for underrepresented minorities are even lower.

“Engineering creates products, improves processes, advances technology and makes changes for everyone in society,” said Sargent. “We need diversity of thought and ideas in the work sector because it is important that the creative process includes perspectives from different cultures, races, backgrounds, gender and more.”

Sargent said research shows evidence that diversity promotes innovation and drives market growth and that, in order to create a more diverse workforce, it is the responsibility of educators to provide an educational setting that is inclusive and welcoming to all students. “It's time education adjusts to include diverse students instead of our students being expected to try to fit into the traditional stereotypes of engineering and other STEM fields,” said Sargent.

Dr. Dong Isbister, assistant professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at UW-Platteville, said that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words, “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity,” found on the American Society of Civil Engineers homepage, clearly explain the importance of diversity and inclusion in engineering-relevant settings, such as school campuses and the workplace.

“Engineering does not only entail technical components, but also requires people skills for optimal outcomes achieved through effective teamwork and collaboration,” said Isbister. “Our students are not only studying on an increasingly diverse campus, but also preparing themselves to be effectively immersed in pertinent real-world activities by interacting with individuals from diverse backgrounds or assuming responsibilities in team-based work settings. It is essential, then, for us to explore ways of involving students in applicable initiatives or activities to develop better cross-cultural relationships and empowering them to take charge as well.”

Isbister said the Women’s and Gender Studies program strives to provide high-quality undergraduate education for students from diverse backgrounds by offering varying in-program and cross-listed courses in all three colleges and organizing activities independently and collaboratively. She noted there is a long-standing history of collaboration in curriculum and relevant initiatives between the Women’s and Gender Studies program and the Women in EMS program.

“The collaborative effort to plan the public lecture on diversity and inclusion undoubtedly indicates our mutual recognition of its importance for engineering students on our campus,” said Isbister. “In addition, the unconditional support from the deans in the two colleges, the interim chair of the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies, and university faculty and staff also proves the importance of collaboration to ‘empower each student to become broader in perspective, intellectually more astute, ethically more responsible, and to contribute wisely as an accomplished professional and knowledgeable citizen in a diverse global community.’”  

Written by: Laurie A. Hamer, University Relations Specialist, College of Liberal Arts and Education, 608-342-6191, hamerl@uwplatt.edu

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