Q&A with Jessica Menold, a ‘new voice’ for scientific collaboration

February 20, 2024

By Mariah R. Lucas

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Jessica Menold, Penn State associate professor of engineering design and mechanical engineering and affiliate of Penn State’s Institute for Computational and Data Sciences, was named a member of the 2024-26 New Voices cohort of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine 

According to the National Academies, the New Voices in Science, Engineering and Medicine program brings together early- to mid-career leaders in science, engineering and medicine from underrepresented backgrounds who have an interest in science communication, international scientific collaboration and science policy.  

Members are selected for a two-year term through a merit-based, open competition. The cohort of 26 leaders from around the country will meet virtually each month and in person twice a year to discuss issues of national importance and plan programmatic activities that address them.  

Penn State News caught up with Menold about her selection as a New Voices member. 

Q: With what initiatives in the College of Engineering are you involved that have a similar mission to that of the New Voices program?

Menold: I am the chair of the School of Engineering Design and Innovation’s diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging committee, and we are in the middle of our racial equity workshop series, where we take an instructor-focused approach to critically evaluating the practices in our classrooms that contribute to inclusive and welcoming environments, particularly for minoritized students.

Additionally, I am the associate director of outreach and inclusion at the College of Engineering’s Learning Factory, a makerspace for students to work on capstone design projects and research projects. In this role, my main goal is to foster a welcoming atmosphere for students to learn critical hands-on engineering skills through various workshops and events.

Finally, I am the director of the Institute for Computational and Data Sciences Center for Immersive Experiences (CIE). At CIE, one of our big pushes recently has been using immersive technologies to re-skill or upskill the future workforce. This effort is critical, particularly for post-industrial towns struggling to revitalize their local economies.

All this work focuses on interacting with the current and future science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workforce, building trust with the public and fostering welcoming environments for folks to not just survive in STEM careers, but thrive. I think these efforts overlap incredibly well with the goals of the New Voices program.

Q: Part of the responsibilities of a New Voices member is to “battle public distrust by bringing science communication activities to new communities.” How do you plan to address that?

Menold: Effective communication has always been a major hurdle for most scientists, engineers and medical professionals, but it is critical to the translation of our science to the public. One of the major themes that came out of our recent three-day orientation for the New Voices cohort centered around building public trust in science through science education and community outreach activities. This is something I am passionate about and am excited to work on with this group.

Q: As a cohort member, you will be connected to federal agencies, program officers and National Academies members. How do you plan to make connections for Penn State faculty?

Menold: My hope is to use this program as a platform to increase the impact of science, engineering and medical research here at Penn State by facilitating connections between Penn State researchers and federal agencies and National Academies members. My hope is to highlight many of the amazing young faculty members we have here at Penn State, as I believe these connections are particularly critical for junior faculty.


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