In the summer of 2020, Cassie Warrener ChE ‘20, Jerri Norman CE ’21, and Zev Granowitz ME ‘21 contacted the Director of Engineering’s Office to begin a dialogue on ways to combat racism. Inspired by the nationwide Black Lives Matter movement as well as Instagram postings on racist experiences at Lafayette, they sought to move words of support into action. The students offered multiple suggestions on ways to foster a more inclusive climate as a stepping-off point, such as a division-wide peer mentoring program and greater diversity in people and majors for on-campus speakers. These conversations were expanded to Engineering Council (EC), composed of the leadership positions in the Engineering Division including department heads, program chairs and the director of engineering.
A significant outcome of these discussions was the formation of Engineering Student Council (ESC) as the student counterpart to Engineering Council. This group serves as a formal leadership structure for all student organizations within the Engineering Division, with two student members elected to serve as members of Engineering Council. This gives students a voice in the “room where it happens” and enables student representatives to provide input as critical discussions and decisions are taking place. While Lafayette Engineering’s approach to improving the community climate is multifaceted, the elevation of the student voice is a significant component, and is helping to shape everything from course topics, to co-curricular events, Admissions events, and more.
As two of the students who initiated the original dialogue with the Director of Engineering’s Office, Granowitz and Norman were the first students to serve in this role and helped lead ESC’s formation. Their contributions in amplifying student voices had an immediate and lasting impact. They began discussions to expand the peer mentoring program division-wide. They also gave input into prospective student recruiting events such as Engineering Open House, adding student representatives in some of the day’s events.
Building on this foundation, this academic year Alex Ashley ’22, Rachel Hurley ’23, and Marco Olivas ’23 advocated for including Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice (DEIJ) topics in the curriculum, particularly in ES101. Introduction to Engineering is a required course taken by all first-year engineering students. The student leaders in ESC collaborated with course instructors and invited Rob Young ’14, director of the Office of Intercultural Development, to lead a workshop focused on implicit bias and microaggressions. The workshop was integrated into all 14 sections of the course and was attended by over 230 students. In addition to first-year engineering students, ES101 is open to upper-level students in majors across the College. The fall semester’s enrollment of non-engineering majors reached an all-time high of nearly 60 students, most of whom are humanities and social science majors.
“Having a communications channel and partnering with student leaders on activities and events is amazing. The ES101 DEIJ workshop is just one example of the impact of student involvement,” said Scott Hummel, William Jeffers Director of Engineering. “This is rapidly becoming a model for the campus.”
Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Associate Professor and Engineering/International Studies Dual Degree Program Chair Michael Senra serves as advisor to ESC. He emphasizes the importance of the student perspective. “The voice of the student is an important, but often underappreciated component in making vital decisions that impact the short and long-term goals of Lafayette Engineering. ESC provides an opportunity for the insights of our talented, thoughtful engineering students to be heard and help mold the direction of our division and College.”
Other aspects of the engineering program that have already seen the impact of the student voice include co-curricular events. Engineers Week, which was formerly organized by the Director of Engineering’s Office, is now planned by students with financial and logistical support from Division Scheduling Coordinator Serena Ashmore and Division Coordinator Lisa Karam. Events are designed to showcase student organizations and reach beyond disciplinary boundaries to welcome students across all engineering departments and programs. This year’s events included everything from metal tag coating, to soldering, welding, gear box construction, liquid nitrogen ice cream, and more.
Another significant advancement is the expansion of the peer mentoring program. “Now every first- and second-year student has access to the resources of upperclassmen,” Rachel Hurley said.
“The upperclassmen can share their experiences and perspective with first- and second-year students and provide a great sounding board,” Ashley added.
An alumni mentoring program is also in the works through a partnership with Gateway Career Center. The idea is to create a database of engineering alumni across a wide variety of fields. Undergraduates could then get a better idea of the range of opportunities after graduation as well as get advice on how best to position their student experience for life beyond Lafayette. “Many students are not even aware of what the options are with their degrees. The goal is to open student’s eyes to opportunities,” Ashley said.
One of Ashley’s personal goals for ESC is to continue to build a greater sense of community across all engineering departments and programs and across all years. He introduced Field Day, an ongoing series of events, last spring in an effort to create a forum that opened communications channels through fun, light-hearted activities and a little friendly competition. “All engineers should know all engineers,” Ashley said.
All of these efforts address ways to build a stronger, more inclusive community in which everyone feels a sense of belonging and connection to a larger community.
With Ashley graduating, Hurley and Olivas will build on the progress ESC has made to date by adding three focus committees: the peer mentor program, DEIJ, and engineering community events. In addition, the ESC originally consisted of engineering student organization leaders, but will be open to any engineering students for the 2022-23 school year so that any engineering student is able to have influence and voice through the ESC.
“One thing I’ve learned is that students and faculty all have the same goals. With more communication, we can work toward those goals. Also, we need each other,” Hurley added.
“Everything ties into DEIJ and having a sense of agency and a voice in the community,” Hummel said. “The students are making us better and I’m so glad we did this.”