June 1, 2007

 “The future of engineering across the nation depends on diversifying its workforce.” Dr. Kelly A. Rusch, Formosa Plastics Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and new CoE Associate Dean of Women and Minorities

Like many industries, engineering has had a history of little diversity in gender or in culture. These days, however, the face of engineering more and more resembles the brilliant social mosaic of today’s globalizing society. Across the profession, integration and inclusion are not only equalizing opportunity for under-represented and minority graduates, but also significantly enriching the industry’s pool of expert human resources. At LSU, the College of Engineering is taking a lead role by embracing the University’s drive for diversity and inclusiveness through key additions to faculty and important program initiatives like the Women in Engineering Program (WIEP). This ground-breaking program will enhance the learning environment for talented young women who will establish new traditions in academia and join the industry’s new cadre of leaders. It will also serve as a catalyst for recruiting and retaining female faculty in the College.

In her new role as the College’s first Associate Dean for Women and Minorities, Dr. Kelly A. Rusch, Formosa Plastics Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, herself exemplifies the program’s ultimate objective: to increase the visibility and participation of qualified female students and faculty in all sectors of engineering. Rusch says that her appointment “makes a clear statement that [CoE] is going to be a proactive leader on this campus with respect to diversity issues.  The future of engineering across the nation depends on diversifying its workforce.”

Engineering’s 2006 enrollment statistics make a positive case for the new Associate Dean and the initiatives under her care, such as the Minority Engineering Program (MEP) and WIEP. One of WIEP’s objectives is recruiting and retaining female engineering students. Of the 2,112 undergraduates enrolled in the College in Fall ’06, 15 percent, or 325, are women—of whom only 68 identify as women of color. Minority enrollment totaled 290, or about 14 percent. Yet both these numbers are also indicative of a growth trend in female and minority enrollment in engineering education, which should then lead to more diversity in the profession.

Summer Dann Johnson—woman engineer, LSU CoE grad and recently appointed coordinator of STEP—the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Talent Expansion Project—understands firsthand what women engineers must face to succeed. “It’s about perception—the same in school as in the real world,” she observes candidly. For her, the keys to success are finding a good study group, and using one’s stubbornness as a shield “to not let what people say affect [one’s] choices.” Good mentors, like Associate Dean of Undergraduate Programs Warren Waggenspack are also essential—“although back then,” she remembers with a laugh, “I didn’t like him at first!”

Summer adapted a Houston-area science and engineering camp model and coordinated with the Girl Scouts, CBM2, Exxon Mobil and CoE to start a Science Adventures Camp in 2004 for students K–12 in the Baton Rouge area. The program is successful and growing; still, Summer is pushing for more participants. “Parents aren’t signing up their girls,” Summer points out. “They [parents] need education, too.”

Rusch’s appointment, MEP, STEP and WIEP all represent significant steps towards a broader, more diverse horizon in Engineering, both in academia and in industry.

Article by Kip Britton, LSU College of Engineering, 225-578-7373, ebritt2@lsu.edu.

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