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Jacobs School of Engineering Receives Three Diversity Awards

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IDEA Scholars pose during the first-ever Summer PrEP program. The scholars benefit from several programs run by the IDEA Center, which has received a UC San Diego Diversity Award. 

San Diego, Calif., Jan. 19, 2012 -- One individual, a center and a committee at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego have each received a Diversity Award for their efforts to promote diversity and equity here on campus. The award winners will be recognized during the annual Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action Diversity Awards ceremony at 2 p.m. Feb. 14 at the Price Center. 

The three Jacobs School winners are the IDEA Student Center; Associate Dean Jeanne Ferrante, who also is the Associate Vice Chancellor for Faculty Equity in Academic Affairs; and the 2010-11 school-wide ‘Excellence Search Committee’.

All three work to improve diversity in various aspects of the school’s life. The IDEA Student Center promotes inclusion and diversity in students’ daily lives. Ferrante has worked to make contributions to diversity a focus in faculty recruitment campuswide and at the Jacobs School of Engineering. The Excellence Search Committee worked toward the same goal here at the school last academic year.

“Diversity leads to excellence in almost every aspect of academic life, from research to campus climate,” said Ferrante.

For example, diversity can improve research outcomes, she added. Better solutions require the inclusion of different points of view, Ferrante explained. For example, when airbags were first introduced, they had only been tested on male, adult-sized dummies. As a result, they didn’t work well to protect women and children. A more diverse team of engineers would have been more likely to come up with an initial design for airbags that worked across the board, Ferrante said.

Also, there is a host of studies that show diversity in the student body and the faculty leads to positive outcomes for all students, Ferrante said. That is the focus of the IDEA Student Center, which opened its doors in fall 2011 at the Jacobs School.

Spotlight on the the IDEA Student Center

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Terrance Mayes, director of the IDEA Student Center at the Jacobs School. 

The goals of the center are summed up by the four words that form the IDEA acronym: inclusion, diversity, excellence and advancement. The center aims to improve retention and graduation rates; attract more underrepresented students; encourage undergraduates to pursue research; and get students in elementary, middle and high school, as well as community college, excited about a career in engineering.

“My team and I are appreciative of this award but recognize that we still have much work to do in helping to foster a climate of diversity, equity and inclusion at the Jacobs School,” said Terrance Mayes, the center’s director.

The creation of the center would not have been possible without the Jacobs School chapters of the National Society of Black Engineers, the Society of Women Engineers and the Society of Professional Hispanic Engineers, as well as the faculty and staff across the Jacobs School, Mayes said.

He added he hopes the award will increase the center’s visibility on campus and across the country to show that efforts combining academic enrichment, mentoring and student life can serve as a model to successfully retain students who have been historically underrepresented in engineering.

The center plans to expand several of its programs, starting this quarter, said Mayes. The Jacobs Undergraduate Mentoring Program (JUMP), a student-driven initiative, doubled the number of students it serves starting this quarter, to 140. The program also will now include alumni, who will mentor graduate and undergraduate students.

The IDEA Scholars program will also expand from 22 to 40 students in fall 2012, comprising about four to five percent of the incoming freshman class for the 2012-13 academic year. The new program is designed to increase retention and graduation rates for under-represented students at the Jacobs School. The goal here is to improve these statistics by offering a wide range of services and opportunities for students. This past quarter, IDEA Scholars’ grade-point average was higher than the average GPA of all students at the Jacobs School. All IDEA Scholars take part in the Summer PrEP program, a residential summer program designed to prepare students for the transition from high school to the Jacobs School’s rigourous engineering program. Summer PrEP will expand from four to five days this summer.

Award for Jeanne Ferrante’s work

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Jeanne Ferrante, Associate Dean at the Jacobs School and Associate Vice Chancellor for Faculty Equity at UCSD. 

Meanwhile, Ferrante is working to recruit more faculty who made significant contributions to diversity and who come from diverse backgrounds themselves. She said she was honored to receive a Diversity Award. “It’s my job,” she said. “But it’s nice to be rewarded.” Her work is focused on the long term and will take time, she added. “It’s institutional transformation,” Ferrante said. “It’s changing the culture.”

As Associate Vice Chancellor for Faculty Equity, and Associate Dean at the Jacobs School, she helped lead efforts to put in place a new recruiting process and procedures that promote contributions to diversity. She also helped set up a task force to promote the recruitment, support and advancement of historically under-represented faculty.

Ferrante is also one of the leaders of the campus’ Women’s Leadership Alliance, a grass-roots organization comprising more than 100 faculty and staff members that promotes networking, professional development and the recognition of women campus leaders.

Ferrante also helped bring to UC San Diego Mentor Net, an online mentoring system for science and engineering students that has engaged more than 300 students and postdoctoral researchers, many of them women.

She said that her approach to her work is very much influenced by her background as an engineer and computer scientist. She tries to recognize problems and identify changes that need to be made to fix them.

Recognizing the School-wide Excellence Search Committee

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Ahmed Elgamal, a professor of structural engineering, and co-chair of the 2010-11 school-wide Excellence Search Committee at the Jacobs School. 

At the Jacobs School, Ferrante co-chaired with Ahmed Elgamal, a professor of structural engineering, the 2010-11 School-wide Excellence Search Committee, which also is being recognized with a diversity award this year.   In 2010,  the Jacobs School designated one of its new faculty positions as school wide, in order to recruit  scientists who not only excelled in their research area but also made significant contributions in advancing diversity. In a way, that made recruitment requirements harder, Ferrante said.

During the 2010-11 academic year, the committee helped hire three outstanding candidates, including the first African-American faculty member at the Jacobs School. Todd Coleman, a bioengineering professor, is already on campus and partnering with the IDEA Student Center, as is Carlos Coimbra, an environmental engineering professor and another of the recruits.  All of the newly hired faculty have made strong  past contributions to diversity.

Working closely with the departments through their representatives on the committee was key to the successful hires, said Elgamal, the committee's other co-chair. “In the end, it is the departments that do the work and nominate candidates that are a great fit,” he said.

The committee last year also instituted some new practices, including a detailed list of questions about the applicants’  contributions to diversity;  this practice has now been adopted school-wide.

The committee’s success is based on past experience as well.  Dean Frieder Seible and the Jacobs School leadership recognized  almost a decade ago that some simple changes could attract a larger and more diverse pool of candidates, Ferrante said.  For example, one sentence was added to all recruitment ads, stating that excellent candidates in areas outside of the ones the recruitment targeted would be seriously considered.  In addition, the school has asked every applicant to submit a statement about their contributions to diversity, a practice which has now been adopted campus-wide.

“Diversity is definitely an important part of our academic pursuits and of our students’ lives,” said Ferrante. “All of us should care about this.”

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