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Diversity is essential to innovation. The UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering has launched a Student and Faculty Racial Equity Task Force and is building on campus-wide initiatives as it works to ensure that all engineering and computer science students, faculty and staff can thrive and innovate.
San Diego, Calif., Oct. 13, 2020 -- Earning a degree in engineering or computer science is tough, even in the best of circumstances. Of the students in the U.S. that enroll in an engineering undergraduate program, only a third will graduate in four years, according to the American Society for Engineering Education.
For students facing one or more intersecting issues such as systemic racial discrimination, economic hardship, lackluster K-12 opportunities inside and outside the classroom, limited or no family experience with college, and a myriad of other challenges or barriers, the path to an engineering or computer science degree is often even more challenging.
For engineers and computer scientists who aspire to become professors, the path remains challenging and competitive. Aspiring professors who are traditionally underrepresented in engineering and computer science encounter additional challenges. The intersecting issues faced while earning a first degree in engineering remain, and often intensify, during graduate school, one or more postdocs, the academic job market, a job offer as a tenure-track professor, and tenure.
This year, the reality of these intersecting problems in engineering and computer science is getting much deserved renewed attention as part of a larger reckoning with systemic racism in the United States.
In this light, the University of California San Diego has launched multiple campus initiatives including two new efforts to advance faculty diversity, and a forthcoming NSF-funded effort to study bottlenecks and barriers in the computer science undergraduate pipeline. (Christine Alvarado, Associate Dean for Students and a computer science professor at the Jacobs School is part of this project. More to come in the future on this effort.)
The UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering community is building on this work through targeted and complementary efforts. In particular, the Jacobs School is stepping up to assess and improve its efforts to create equitable learning and working environments for students, faculty, and staff. The Jacobs School is paying particular attention to equity for Black students and faculty, and also more broadly to all students and faculty in traditionally underrepresented groups in engineering, including LatinX, Native Americans, women, and LGBTQ+.
To listen, reflect and then move forward, the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering launched the Student and Faculty Racial Equity Task Force on October 1, 2020.
"We’re committed to seeing this through and doing what’s right,” said Albert P. Pisano, Dean of the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering. "One first step to addressing racial equity issues is to really listen. It's unacceptable to be blind to the issues and claim to be faultless. Every engineer knows you can't solve a problem without first acknowledging it."
With critical input and guidance from Black students and other students of color, Christine Alvarado and Karen Christman, who are both professors and Associate Deans at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering, led the creation of the Student and Faculty Racial Equity Task Force. The task force also includes two student affairs staff members, one who works with graduate students and the other undergraduates; a representative from the Jacobs School's IDEA Engineering Student Center; a faculty representative from each department; and the Jacobs School Faculty Equity Advisor.
Crucially, four Jacobs School students who have been selected as the inaugural class of Racial Equity Fellows through a new project created by Dean Albert P. Pisano, have been invited to join the task force. These students are Muno Ogelohwohor, an undergraduate electrical engineering student and president of the National Society of Black Engineers chapter at UC San Diego; Laura Gutierrez, an undergraduate environmental engineering student, the president of the UC San Diego chapter of the Society for Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) and an IDEA Scholar; Maya Rowell, a bioengineering PhD student and member of the Bioengineering Diversity Council; and Sergio Suarez, a structural engineering PhD student.
Learn more about these students here.
Jacobs School staff are also critical to culture change within the school. The Jacobs School will launch a racial equity staff initiative in Winter Quarter 2021. This initiative will leverage the materials presented through the Chancellor's 21 Day Anti-Racism Challenge as a starting point and evolve from there. All staff are welcome to join, and Jacobs School staff who have been certified as LEAD Fellows (Tana Troke Campana, Gennie Miranda, and Jesse DeWald) will help get the initiative going. More information to come.
In the context of engineering and computer science education and research, equity means providing students, staff and faculty with the resources they need to succeed. Part of the mission of the Jacobs School Racial Equity task force will be to develop a comprehensive understanding of the existing programs and resources in place to do this, before suggesting solutions where gaps exist.
This will help the Task Force understand where the Jacobs School is now regarding a series of important issues including improving retention and time-to-degree for Black, Latinx and Native American students, and recruitment and retention of faculty from these same underrepresented groups.
"We are taking stock of where the Jacobs School stands both in terms of statistics and culture," said Christine Alvarado, who is Associate Dean for Students and a computer science professor at the Jacobs School. "We will be looking at how the Jacobs School compares, in terms of student and faculty diversity, to state and national statistics, and setting concrete targets for where the Jacobs School wants to be in 2025."
Once this group has a statistical baseline and also a diversity of qualitative accounts of the state of the Jacobs School, the Task Force will make concrete suggestions, with specific timelines, for strengthening what's working and addressing what's not working.
With the Racial Equity fellows at the table, the student experience will be addressed thoroughly. Student and faculty diversity are, of course, deeply interrelated. The UC San Diego campus recently announced a 10-12 person STEM cluster hire focused on racial/ethnic disparities in STEM fields with a significant focus on the Black Diaspora and African American communities. The Jacobs School is deeply engaged in this effort.
"The experiences of being a part of a shared lab, a larger research group, and an academic department are critical for any faculty member. But as an academic community, we have the added responsibility to make sure the environments we create and sustain are open and supportive for our diverse faculty. This is part of what it means to take equity seriously. We are looking at all these issues all across the Jacobs School," said Karen Christman, who is Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs and Welfare and a bioengineering professor at the Jacobs School.
When it comes to recruiting and retaining diverse faculty, the research is increasingly pointing to the importance of widespread institutional awareness of the current statistics. "Creating that awareness and then building on it is a priority," said Christman. "If an institution is not collectively aware of racial disparities, especially when it comes to faculty, it's much harder to correct them."
This new task force is not by any means the Jacobs School's first foray into student and faculty diversity issues. On the student side of things, the IDEA Engineering Student Center, and the student-focused centers that preceded IDEA, have been supporting undergraduate students at the Jacobs School, with a particular focus on students from groups underrepresented in engineering—including women, Black, Latinx and Native American students—for years. The IDEA Center is marking its 10th year in 2020-2021. The IDEA Engineering Student Center runs popular summer prep and mentorship programs, peer-led engineering learning communities, support for student diversity organizations, and more. Read more here.
“The IDEA Engineering Student Center is here to foster an inclusive and welcoming community, increase retention rates, and promote a sustainable culture of academic excellence among all engineering students at UC San Diego,” said Olivia Graeve, a professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and faculty director of the IDEA Center.
The Jacobs School's Department of Computer Science and Engineering is also a leader in efforts to strengthen department culture and celebrate and support diversity and departments and centers across the school are making important progress as well.
The Jacobs School and UC San Diego are working together to extend this inclusive culture to the entire campus community of students, alumni, staff and faculty. Any goals and actions recommended by the Task Force will be guided by the core tenants of UC San Diego’s Strategic Plan for Inclusive Excellence: access and success, climate and accountability. Jacobs School is working with the Office for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion at UC San Diego on these and other projects including the accountability process, the Black Academic Excellence Initiative, and Latinx/Chicanx Academic Excellence Initiative.
"Diversity is essential to innovation," said Pisano. "We need innovators from every walk of life.”
Jacobs School of Engineering