Diversity is both a goal and a process.Civil Engineering has historically been dominated by white men. While a recent Introductory Environmental Engineering course that I co-taught was 50 percent women, there were only two Hispanic students and two black students in a class of 96. As a white man, I need to be part of improving diversity in our field. Through teaching and research mentoring, I hope to help bring the diversity to our field that will be necessary to find sustainable solutions to our planet’s most pressing environmental problems. The goal is simple: to increase participation of underrepresented minorities in our profession. Defining the process to achieve this goal is a challenge, and the responsibility to meet this challenge falls squarely on the shoulders of Civil Engineering educators.
To promote diversity in teaching, I will continue to implement strategies that I have utilized at the University of Wisconsin. First, I will use learner-centered teaching practices which have been shown to benefit under-represented minority (URM) students. Second, I will work to reduce impacts of stereotype threat on student performance by using a variety of activities and assessment strategies. Third, I will use pre-course surveys to gauge identity and expected challenges that may result. This survey will include examples of exclusion in previous courses, preferred pronouns, and any special needs or wants. Fourth, I embrace issues of environmental justice that arise in course content. When teaching the Flint Water Crisis to undergraduates, I included a lecture on the environmental justice and ethical issues that surrounded the crisis. In my experience, these lessons improve student motivation. Lastly, I will monitor specific performance of URM students and familiarize myself with campus resources supporting these students. In addition, I will implement small practices that can have big impacts on marginalized students. For instance, when teaching a class with only one female student, I stopped using “guys” to refer to a group of people. While some of these strategies will not result in broad impacts for today’s civil engineering students, a few simple steps can create deep impacts for marginalized students. It is my hope that the sum of these deep impacts will lead to broad impacts across the Civil Engineering discipline.
I will also use my research program to promote diversity. I mentored nine undergraduate researchers at the University of Wisconsin, three of whom were URM students. As an undergraduate and first-generation college student, I was initially unaware of opportunities for paid undergraduate research experiences. My academic advisor made me aware of these opportunities, and, because I was awarded a fellowship, I transitioned from a part-time dishwasher, grader, and computer-lab host to a bioreactor tinkerer. This experience as an undergraduate researcher at the University of Wyoming put me on the path to become a scientist. As a research mentor, I will direct promising undergraduate students to apply for research fellowships as I received as an undergraduate. As my advisor did for me, I will specifically reach out to economically disadvantaged students to make sure they are aware of research opportunities and financial assistance.