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San Diego, Calif., Oct. 13, 2020 -- Four engineering students with a demonstrated commitment to racial equity have been selected as the inaugural cohort of the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering Racial Equity Fellows. These students, representing undergraduate and graduate perspectives from four different engineering departments, will serve as student advocates on the recently launched Jacobs School Student and Faculty Racial Equity Task Force, bringing student concerns and suggestions to the group tasked with making the Jacobs School of Engineering a truly inclusive community.
"We’re committed to seeing this through and doing what’s right,” said Albert P. Pisano, dean of the 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."
The students receive a $500 stipend for the yearlong fellowship and will participate in the Jacobs School Student and Faculty Racial Equity Task Force.
One of the first tasks of the Task Force is to take stock of where the Jacobs School stands in terms of both intangibles such as school climate and also develop metrics on current representation, retention and time-to-graduation for Black, Latinx, Native American, Asian and white students and faculty at the Jacobs School and how that compares across the campus, state and the country. This will help the Task Force understand where we are now, and how that compares at state and national levels. The next steps will be to develop and deliver on plans with specific outcomes and timelines.
"I am proud to introduce our first cohort of Racial Equity Fellows, and I am grateful for their openness and honesty in telling it like they see it," said Pisano.
Laura Gutierrez: Laura Gutierrez is 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. She wanted to be involved in the Racial Equity Task Force to form a more welcoming culture for students from diverse backgrounds.
“There have been things that didn’t sit well with me while attending UC San Diego, and as president of SHPE I think that’s put me in a spot where I could have an impact to change the culture of the Jacobs School of Engineering,” Gutierrez said. “I want students after me to feel like they’re in a more welcoming kind of environment.”
For example, she said many students felt a lack of empathy from school faculty, staff and administrators in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the resulting protests in the weeks leading up to finals week. One possible solution she’ll bring to the table is the Jacobs School hosting workshops on emotional intelligence and student support for faculty and staff who want to participate. Creating an environment where students feel comfortable letting faculty know about problems they’re facing is one place Gutierrez thinks could be a good start in helping students bring their whole selves to the university.
Odemuno (Muno) Ogelohwohor: Muno Ogelohwohor is an undergraduate electrical engineering student and president of the National Society of Black Engineers chapter at UC San Diego. As a Racial Equity Fellow, she hopes to find ways to increase the Black student population at the Jacobs School, and better support those students through to graduation with engineering degrees. She also sees an opportunity to increase the school’s representation of Black students, and do a better job of staying connected with alumni.
“When you walk through campus and you see all these banners and stuff, you barely see any Black people, and when you do it’s usually an arts or social sciences student,” she said. “That's something I think we need is more representation, especially within engineering. Even when you're walking through Jacobs Hall you barely see any photos of Black students anywhere, in any of the pictures. So you kind of don't really feel like you belong, but a part of you wants to belong.”
Ogelohwohor would also like to change how the diversity student organizations are viewed, which might also have long term positive consequences.
“What we're trying to do is kind of change how we not only recruit folks within the Jacobs School, but change the perception that because we're the National Society of Black Engineers folks don't think they can join if they're not Black or engineers. “That’s something we’re trying to demystify within the Jacobs community and the Black in STEM community at UC San Diego as a whole, and also for our allies who support our mission and vision.”
Maya Rowell: Maya Rowell is a bioengineering PhD student, and a member of the Bioengineering Diversity Council. She wanted to participate in the Racial Equity Task Force to share her desire to see more diverse faculty and staff within the Jacobs School. She’d also like to explore the possibility of more dedicated and well publicized resources for students from backgrounds underrepresented in engineering, for example a space for students of color.
“There's the Black Resource Center, but it's all the way across campus and not many people on this side of campus know about it or have time to go over there,” Rowell said. "And some people don’t do thorough research into the resources available for them at UC San Diego, so I wish that was more available so it doesn't need to be searched for so intensely."
Small steps like this would go a long way to making minority students feel welcome and accepted, she said.
Sergio Suarez: Sergio Suarez is a PhD student in the Department of Structural Engineering. He wanted to serve as a Racial Equity Fellow after witnessing the recent escalation in racial tensions and discrimination across the country. Some of the ideas he plans to share with the Task Force include actively working to increase the cultural and racial diversity among guest speakers; hosting info sessions to be sure students, staff and faculty are all aware of the university’s harassment and discrimination policies and how to report incidents of abuse; and to organize specific anti-racism workshops to start to tackle some of the more systemic issues.
Part of his decision to study at the Jacobs School was based on the diverse faculty he encountered, an attribute he’d like to see receive increased attention.
“To see well-renowned faculty from a variety of backgrounds leading innovative research was quite inspiring,” he said.
Jacobs School of Engineering