‘Education, Engineering & Race’ seminar series yields feedback, action items

A summer seminar series on 'Education, Engineering & Race' yielded feedback and input from attendees on social injustice, racism and inequities

Beth Miller  

Through a series of virtual seminars held over the summer, the McKelvey School of Engineering has gathered numerous suggestions from participants on how the school and the university can address social injustice and racism in engineering and the other STEM fields.

The “Education, Engineering & Race” seminar series, which began July 30, featured faculty experts in various aspects of racism and education who presented their research so that participants could better understand practices and policies in STEM education and engineering that support systemic racism. Each seminar was followed by 30-minute breakout sessions, during which participants discussed ways to put ideas presented in the seminar into action and shared those ideas to Google documents. Each seminar had nearly 200 participants.

Jessica Wagenseil, associate professor of mechanical engineering & materials science and one of the faculty organizers of the series, said feedback from the seminars was very positive.

“We believe that they stimulated an important dialogue within McKelvey Engineering,” she said. “We are actively discussing the next steps from the input we collected in the Google docs from the seminars and accompanying breakout sessions.”

The July 30 seminar featured Odis Johnson, professor of sociology and education; director of the Institute in Critical Quantitative, Computational, and Mixed Methodologies (ICQCM); and associate director of the Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity, and Equity in the College of Arts & Sciences at WashU, who spoke about "#ShutDownSTEM: Connecting Race and Policing to STEM Inequities." In it, he discussed the inverse relationship between the school-to-prison pipeline and the STEM pipeline. 

The Aug. 13 seminar featured Ebony McGee, associate professor of Diversity and STEM Education and principal investigator for the Institute in Critical Quantitative, Computational and Mixed Methodologies at Vanderbilt University, who presented on "Black, Brown, Bruised: How Racialized STEM Education Stifles Innovation." She discussed the equity ethic, the opportunity to decrease inequities and social suffering through engineering work; implementing a PhD mentoring program for students underrepresented in the STEM fields; and reforming engineering education to find ways to benefit communities. 

The Aug. 27 seminar featured Brian Jefferson, associate professor of geography and geographic information science and the O'Connell Scholar at the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who presented “Encoding Values: Exploring Connections Between Cultural Norms and Scientific Research.” His talk focused on how cultural norms and public policies influence what scientific questions are asked and those that are not asked. 

The series was organized by Princess Imoukhuede, associate professor of biomedical engineering; Joseph O'Sullivan, the Samuel C. Sachs Professor of Electrical Engineering; Lori Setton, the Lucy & Stanley Lopata Distinguished Professor of Biomedical Engineering and chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering; and Jessica Wagenseil, associate professor of mechanical engineering & materials science.

“McKelvey Engineering, along with the entire university, is taking a variety of steps to increase awareness of racial challenges within all aspects of society and to consider what we can do to address them,” said Aaron Bobick, dean of McKelvey Engineering and the James M. McKelvey Professor. “For McKelvey, consideration of the STEM-related domains is particularly important, and this speaker series was a first step in exposing faculty, staff and students to particular issues.  It was exciting that the activity arose organically, championed by committed faculty.” 

Wagenseil said there are plans to continue the seminar series with at least two speakers per semester. Check for additions to the series at https://happenings.wustl.edu and at our Diversity page.



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