Engineering dean speaks on panel about equity in engineering education


By Ashley J. WennersHerron

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Justin Schwartz, Harold and Inge Marcus Dean in the College of Engineering at Penn State, highlighted the college’s efforts to improve equity in engineering during a virtual forum hosted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) on Feb. 24. His presentation may be viewed here.

Titled the “MIT Forum for Equity: Equity in Engineering Education,” the panel was hosted by Eboney Hearn, executive director of MIT’s Office of Engineering Outreach Programs. Schwartz, who earned his doctorate at MIT, was joined by two other MIT alumni who are now both involved in engineering equity programs: Christopher Rose, associate provost for science, technology, engineering and mathematics initiatives and professor of engineering at Brown University, and Alisha Sarang-Sieminski, associate dean and professor of engineering at Olin College of Engineering.

Each panelist showcased their school’s equity efforts before Hearn led a question-and-answer session focused on the cultural shift of equity and inclusion work as integral to engineering education rather than as an extracurricular activity.

“Equity requires progress in both culture and demographics,” Schwartz said, noting that despite more than 30 years of equity efforts, little progress has been made in shifting engineering culture. “If we aim at one without the other, we are going to continue to fail.”

Schwartz spoke about current Penn State engineering efforts to improve equity in academia and engineering, including an improved, comprehensive assessment of students for scholarship awarding and an in-progress equity action plan for the college that engages faculty, staff and students to actively participate in creating a more inclusive, equitable culture. He also mentioned his work on the council of engineering deans from the Big Ten schools, as well as several other top engineering universities, who are working to infuse equity into engineering education across the country.

“We’re engineers,” Schwartz said. “What we do, day in and day out, is apply known science to solve societal problems. For decades, there has been a growth of known social science related to equity and inclusion; yet we, as a discipline, have failed to translate that to practice. That’s what we need to do: apply known science to practice to make real change.”

The full forum may be viewed here.


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