Advanced engineering degrees lead to innovative breakthroughs
"Fundamental breakthroughs in science and engineering require diverse perspectives and fresh energy." – Dr Darryll J. Pines, University of Maryland
Schools encourage women and minorities to apply to grad programs
By Angela M. Hutchinson
Undergraduate engineering students are pursuing advanced degrees to gain more expertise in their fields and to position themselves for careers of their choosing. A masters degree is increasingly necessary for top jobs in industry, and a PhD is generally required to conduct high-level research.
Higher educational institutions are working harder than ever to attract a diverse student body, faculty and staff to their engineering programs to mirror the diversity in today's society. Women and minorities are being actively recruited to meet the demand.
"The demand comes from industry as well as academia," says Maria Gini, College of Science and Engineering distinguished professor and associate head of the department of computer science and engineering at the University of Minnesota (Minneapolis, MN).
To recruit and retain engineering and science students, schools are focusing on creating an environment where diversity is valued. "Columbia University Engineering prides itself on being a diverse learning environment in which all perspectives are welcomed and celebrated," says Tiffany Simon, associate dean.
For the U.S. to remain competitive in the global workforce, diversity in the engineering field is imperative. The University of MarylandCollege Park builds relationships with nearby government organizations and corporations that are committed to minority education and employment, reports Dr Darryll J. Pines, dean and Farvardin professor in the university's A. James Clark School of Engineering.
Pines believes that leveraging the talent and experiences of human capital is crucial to solving the grand challenges facing society. "Fundamental breakthroughs in science and engineering require a broader talent pool, diverse perspectives and thinking to solve complex problems, and the fresh energy of new people entering the field," he says.
David Benjamin Mayo: PhD student at U MD-College Park
David Benjamin Mayo is working towards his PhD at the University of MarylandCollege Park. This is his third year in the aerospace engineering program.
Mayo developed an interest in aerospace engineering as a U.S. Marine. He was fascinated by the UH-60 Blackhawk and CH-53 Super Stallion helicopters, and by the other aircraft he encountered on base and on deployment in Iraq.
He chose the Clark School of Engineering aerospace engineering program for its curriculum and research programs, particularly in the areas of rotorcraft design. "The determining factor was the welcoming attitude of the aerospace department chair, staff and students during my application process," he says.
As a fulltime PhD student, Mayo enjoys the ITV class lectures, broadcast live to a variety of locations. He has also viewed many lectures online. "I have benefited from the ability to replay the content at a later time," he says.
Mayo grew up in Tuskegee, a rural community in Alabama. "Our family had limited financial resources so the responsibility of paying for my college education was mine," he says. "My father is a disabled Army veteran and he advised me that the military provides opportunities for education and advancement." After high school he enlisted in the Marine Corps.
Mayo earned his 2006 BSME with an aerospace concentration at the Virginia Military Institute (Lexington, VA). Two years later, he had a masters in aerospace engineering from the University of Alabama-Huntsville. Mayo's current goal is to build his foundation in the design, development and testing of aircraft and spacecraft.
"At the completion of this program I will be equipped to provide innovative technical and thought leadership in the field of aerospace engineering and mentor those who can learn from my experiences," he says.
"I particularly enjoy the aerodynamics research on unmanned aerial vehicles and micro air vehicles, because these vehicles can be used in military applications to enhance situational awareness and potentially reduce the loss of life," he says.
Mayo comes from a poor community with very few examples of academic success. "But when I was deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, I knew I wanted to advance my education past the undergraduate level, and I needed to do whatever it took to excel," he says. "After returning from my first tour in Iraq, I worked with my professors and in student groups to strengthen my academic foundation."
University of Maryland fosters faculty and student collaboration
Dr Darryll J. Pines discusses the two primary differentiators that make the school's graduate engineering program unique.
"We have an established interdisciplinary culture that enables graduate students and faculty mentors to collaborate on solutions to complex twenty-first century challenges," he says. "And we are located in the heart of the federal region, home to government and corporate institutions that help set the agenda for engineering's future."
The school's 183 doctoral students include 16.9 percent minorities and 21.9 percent women. Among its 247 masters students, 10.6 percent are minority and 21.9 percent are women.
"In recent years our graduate student alumni have won many Black Engineer of the Year awards and NSF-sponsored Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation awards," says Pines. "We produce outstanding minority graduate students."
George Ejiofor Aninwene II: biomed engineering at Brown
George Ejiofor Aninwene II is a PhD candidate in biomedical engineering at Brown University (Providence, RI). He's a fulltime student in his fifth year.
Aninwene graduated from the University of Maryland-Baltimore County in 2008 with a bachelors in biochemical engineering and a minor in biology. His father is from Nigeria and his mother is from Jamaica, but Aninwene was born and raised in the New York metropolitan area.
"Diversity in a field, especially engineering, ensures that the needs and concerns of many groups are recognized and addressed," he says. "Without diversity in a field of study, many problems would be addressed from only one point of view, and the field would stagnate and serve only the needs of the homogeneous group that made up the field."
Aninwene hopes to learn biomedical engineering techniques and methods, the skills required to run and maintain a lab in biomedical research. "I am discovering new knowledge and insight that could be used to help people. That's a very rewarding part of what I do," he says.
He hopes to launch his own business some day, focusing on research to produce and improve products for rapid tissue repair and re-growth. "For as long as I can remember I have been fascinated with how things function, why they were made to function that way, how they can be improved, and how these functions and improvements can be applied to the human body," he says. "This curiosity prompted my studies in biochemical engineering."
Brown University offers an interdisciplinary focus
Larry Larson, dean of the School of Engineering at Brown University, characterizes its graduate program by its unusual interdisciplinary focus. "We have no departments in the School of Engineering, so students often work between the boundaries of traditional disciplines," he explains. "We have recently extended this concept across the entire university with the Open Graduate Program." In this program students earning a PhD in one discipline can earn a masters in another discipline.
At Brown, 25 percent of engineering graduate students are women, and 7 percent are underrepresented minorities. The school actively reaches out to qualified women and underrepresented minority candidates in engineering fields.
"We have an active recruiting program for top graduate students every year. We bring them to campus and give them a complete tour of the program here, the campus, and the Providence area," says Larson. "We want to actively engage with communities that have been underrepresented in engineering, like women, African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans."
Kristen L. Dorsey: PhD at Carnegie Mellon University
Kristen L. Dorsey is in her fourth year as a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, PA). She is pursuing a PhD in electrical and computer engineering with a thesis topic on dielectric charging in CMOS MEMS.
She earned her bachelors in electrical and computer engineering at Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering (Needham, MA) in 2007. Prior to selecting CMU, she visited several schools that were impressive academically.
But she found the students very competitive and aloof. "CMU was the first school I visited where the students seemed interested in who you were outside of the lab as well as your academic credentials," she says.
Dorsey is from a long line of scientists and engineers on both sides of her family, and she wishes there were more diversity in engineering. Although her CMU experience has been a positive one, "I'm one of the only African Americans in my program," she says. "While I've never encountered anything approaching prejudice, it can be a little uncomfortable being a member of a small and very visible minority."
One of the things she likes most about the structure of her program is the mix of research and interaction with people. This summer, she interned at the Hillsboro, OR location of Intel Corporation (Santa Clara, CA).
After earning her PhD, she would like to do research, either in academia, in industry or in a government lab. "I think I would be happiest in an environment that will allow me to collaborate with others and still do applied research," she says.
"I think the scientific and engineering discoveries of the past 100 years have taught us that creativity is essential to success," she says. "Working in a culturally, racially and economically diverse group encourages everyone to look at life in a new way, which I believe translates to better results in engineering projects."
Carnegie Mellon prepares students to solve world challenges
What distinguishes Carnegie Mellon's engineering program from others is the faculty's willingness to delve into new interdisciplinary areas, says Dr Diana Marculescu, professor of electrical and computer engineering. Single discipline-based instruction is no longer suitable to today's challenges, she declares.
CMU's program has consistently ranked at the top in the nation and internationally, she says. "From my personal perspective, diversity should not be something that has to be explicitly addressed. Instead, graduate programs should have implicit mechanisms by which a diverse student body is identified and recruited," she says.
Brian Anthony Smith: PhD at Columbia University
Brian Anthony Smith is a second-year computer science PhD student at Columbia University (New York, NY). "My main goal as a grad student is to learn how to build, think and innovate independently so that I can have a part in shaping our next generation of problems to solve," he says.
Smith was raised in a biracial home in New Mexico. His mother is from Phoenix, AZ and his dad is from Barbados. He thinks that the low number of students of color in grad school and the even lower number of faculty members of color make it appear that "doing great research or even just getting into graduate school are impossible goals for students of color."
Smith knows better. He graduated from Columbia's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences in 2009 with a bachelors in computer science and a minor in economics. He's currently interning at Google (Mountain View, CA). He may pursue a career at a software company once he receives his PhD. Or he may become a professor.
"The entire field of engineering is based on the premise of making science and technology useful to society," he observes. "A good building is one that is structurally sound, but a great building is one that is sensitive to its context and in tune with how it will actually be used. It may even make the buildings around it more useful."
In the workplace, he believes that diversity is crucial to engineering because it allows engineers to understand the needs of a user base much larger than themselves, to generate an assortment of alternative designs, and to work more collaboratively so that those designs can quickly come to fruition.
Columbia University faculty help students set professional goals
At Columbia Engineering, students work closely with faculty to determine a program of study that best meets the student's professional goals. "Students also benefit from learning from top faculty, alumni and other experts in engineering and applied science," says Tiffany Simon, associate dean.
In the fall of 2011, 25 percent of grad students enrolled at the school were women, and 11 percent were minorities. Women in the fall 2012 entering class increased to 31 percent, a record high for the graduate program.
"Numerous efforts are made to attract students from diverse backgrounds to our graduate degree programs," says Simon. "The graduate student affairs office has taken the lead in developing diversity recruitment programs designed to educate students from underrepresented backgrounds in STEM fields about the importance of pursuing graduate education."
J. Eliseo De León: PhD at Iowa State University
J. Eliseo De León recently started his fourth year as a PhD candidate in materials science and engineering (MSE) at Iowa State University's College of Engineering (ISU, Ames, IA). When his spouse received an associate professor appointment at ISU, De León transferred from Washington State University (WSU, Pullman, WA) after completing his first year of graduate work there.
De León describes ISU's MSE programs as interdisciplinary, encompassing many scientific and engineering disciplines. "Often there is not only one answer to a given problem within a group of scientists or engineers. But the synergy created through collaborative efforts, more often than not, can lead to innovative breakthroughs," he says.
De León came to the U.S. from Mexico in 1977 when he was seven. His parents have no formal education beyond high school but have supported his educational goals. In 1994, he received his bachelors from the University of California-Davis (UCD), where he completed one degree in chemistry and a second in theater arts.
At both UCD and WSU, "I had the good fortune to cross paths with other educated Hispanics who reminded me of the effort I had made to reach this level of education, and the responsibility that comes with succeeding, not only for my own sake, but for the sake of those to whom I am a role model," he says. "Their support helped me overcome the sense of isolation that is often reported by minority students in predominantly white institutions."
For De León, "The most rewarding, and heartbreaking, aspect of the program is the opportunity to do creative and groundbreaking research," he says. "For every day I have a success in the lab, there are nine days when I felt I was hitting my head against the wall."
Of his many work experiences, his time at the U.S. Army Research Lab at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds, MD stands out. "At this point, I'd enjoy doing research at one of the military or national labs," he says.
Iowa State University focuses on a diverse faculty
Kristen P. Constant is Wilkinson professor of interdisciplinary engineering and chair of materials science and engineering at ISU. "Of the 1,144 graduate students registered in the fall of 2011, there were 201 females and seventy underrepresented minorities," says Constant. "The College of Engineering offers a supplemental fellowship to attract females, underrepresented minorities and other high-achieving students."
Fatimata Dio: MS in CE at Jackson State University
Fatimata Dio is a first-year grad student at Jackson State University (JSU, Jackson, MS). She's working on her masters in civil engineering.
Dio enjoys JSU's motivated faculty and "the flexibility and the wide range of options and opportunities available to students. The most challenging aspect of the program, in my opinion, is keeping up with the changing environment in engineering," she notes.
Originally from West Africa, Dio is the first woman in her family to pursue higher education. She graduated from Jackson State in 2012 with dual degrees in civil engineering and mathematics. She hopes to continue her studies as a PhD candidate and become a PE and university professor.
As a student from another culture, Dio has grown both academically and personally by acknowledging and embracing differences. "Being exposed to different cultures throughout college made me an open-minded and better person," she says. "I realized that women engineers are oftentimes stereotyped. For that reason, I always wanted to do my best academically, to show that women can actually be great engineers."
Dio would like to be in a position some day to inspire more women to become engineers and believes that female engineers "have the potential to come up with simple, creative and elegant solutions to problems."
JSU boasts a global student population
Robert W. Whalin, PhD, PE is associate dean and professor at Jackson State. JSU has not experienced any challenges in recruiting a diverse student population for its graduate program, he notes. "We have memoranda of understanding with universities on several continents, so we have a global student population from India, China, the Middle East, Africa and more.
"Diversity here touches all areas: gender diversity, ethnic diversity, educational diversity, age diversity and a diversity of career objectives: academic, government or industry."
Davene Daley: engineering masters at Tufts University
Davene Daley earned her 2010 bachelors in earth science with a minor in physics at Tufts University (Medford, MA). She stayed on for her 2012 masters in civil and environmental engineering with a focus in geotechnical engineering. She chose Tufts because of the school's ongoing research in the modeling and mapping of hazards, primarily earthquakes and landslides, using empirical and theoretical models.
Originally from Kingston, Jamaica, Daley is of African descent. As a Jamaican student in the U.S., she has encountered cultural misconceptions. "I frequently hear the statements 'You don't look Jamaican' or 'You don't sound Jamaican' because I do not have a heavy accent," she explains. "I use these opportunities to address the true, varied culture of Jamaica."
How well an engineer performs on a project is not solely dependent on the level of education or the school, says Daley. "Life experiences both within and outside the profession contribute to one's career success."
Jobs in the field of catastrophe risk assessment interest Daley. "Catastrophic events can be manmade, like terrorism, or natural disasters like earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, winter storms and floods," she notes. "I am interested in working for consulting companies or insurance companies as a risk analyst to identify, model and manage exposure to these catastrophic events."
Tufts University seeks the best talent from all walks of life
Travis M. Brown, director of the center for STEM diversity at Tufts University School of Engineering, notes that diversity is not a numbers game. "It's about finding the best talent from all walks of life, reaching out to students who may not think of Tufts, and creating an environment where those talented researchers are supported."
Tufts offers a number of engineering programs characterized by innovation and interdisciplinary collaboration in strategic research areas. For example, "Our research area in engineering for health reaches across several departments, and includes projects like using recombinant bacterial collagens to promote bone growth in humans, developing noninvasive functional imaging of the brain, and studying the health of Boston communities located near major highways," he says.
Elizabeth Jensen: U of MN PhD student
Elizabeth Jensen is currently in her fourth year of a computer science and engineering PhD program in the University of Minnesota's College of Science and Engineering (Minneapolis, MN). She chose the school because the program had several opportunities to work in the field of distributed robotics, her main interest.
"I did my undergraduate studies in Minnesota, so I was happy to stay in a state where people are friendly and cultural opportunities are abundant," she says. "There are not too many women in the program, but I am used to seeing only a few women in my computer science classes, and it hasn't caused any barriers for me."
What Jensen likes most about her PhD program is "all the cool robots I get to work with and all the other researchers I've met, not just within the department, but also at conferences."
Jensen attended St. Olaf College (Northfield, MN) and earned her bachelors with a double major in computer science and psychology in 2007. After receiving her PhD, she would like to teach at the college level and continue research on multi-robot systems. "My ideal job would be as a professor, probably at a smaller school, but possibly at a large research university," she says.
She believes that "diversity is extremely useful in my field, because we are frequently working on designing user interfaces or robots that interact with humans, and the more perspectives we have, the better we can fine tune our projects to meet the needs of a general audience."
University of Minnesota offers interdisciplinary work
According to Maria Gini, UM College of Science and Engineering distinguished professor and associate head in the department of computer science and engineering, the grad program is unusual because it combines engineering, physical sciences, mathematics and computer science all within the same college. The broad range of disciplines offered within one college provides many great opportunities for faculty and students to do interdisciplinary work, share research projects and improve teaching.
Of the 2,698 graduate students enrolled in the College of Science and Engineering, about 78 percent are men. According to Gini, this gender split has remained relatively constant over the last few years. Just over 45 percent identify themselves as white and about 45 percent are international students.
"In the graduate programs in my department, we have approximately 400 graduate students, counting both full time and part time students. Of those, approximately sixty are women. Ten are from the U.S. and the rest are international students. Ten are from underrepresented minority groups."
The University of Minnesota recruits diverse students through multiple channels. "Word of mouth is often successful, in particular to recruit women. We work with undergraduate programs in the region to encourage their students to apply to our graduate programs," says Gini. "Despite our efforts, the number of students from underrepresented groups in our programs is not as high as we would like, and we know we need to do more."
Kathryn Mireles: PhD at Washington State University
Kathryn Mireles is a second-year PhD student in the materials science and engineering program (MSEP) at Washington State University (WSU, Pullman, WA). She was attracted by the many aspects of materials science available for students to research in the interdisciplinary program.
"Whether it's ceramics or biomaterials, there are professors who excel in their fields and can serve as excellent advisors," she says. Touring the MSEP labs and speaking with the graduate students solidified her choice. "The amount of equipment available as well as the research going on in each lab was very exciting."
Mireles comes from a small town in New Mexico. "While most of the residents are Hispanic, there are very few young people who actually speak Spanish," she says. "I was lucky enough to be raised by my grandparents. While my family never pushed me to continue my education, they did stand by me as I made my decision. It is very exciting that I'll soon be the first PhD in my family."
Mireles graduated in 2011 with a bachelors in materials engineering from New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology (Socorro, NM). After receiving her PhD she would like to work in industry and then at a national lab. "My ultimate goal is to begin my own research-based small business where we could provide services to other companies and conduct research as well," she says.
WSU offers big school amenities
WSU's engineering programs give graduate students a small school environment with big school amenities, says Indranath Dutta, associate dean of research, graduate studies and strategic initiatives at Washington State University's College of Engineering and Architecture. "We have world-class faculty and facilities and a relatively low graduate student to research faculty ratio. Several of the faculty members in our flagship research areas are world renowned." Flagship research areas include advanced materials, air and water resources, electric power, chemical catalysis, sustainable design and smart environments.
WSU's faculty members have developed relationships with several universities that have high minority enrollment. "We leverage these relationships to actively recruit from the colleges," says Dutta. "We also strongly encourage women and minority students who learn about us through other sources to approach us freely and engage with us by posing questions to the faculty, department chairs and associate deans."
Patricia Casal: PhD at the Ohio State University
Patricia Casal is a third-year PhD candidate in biomedical engineering at the Ohio State University (OSU, Columbus, OH). She hopes to find a research position in industry after graduation.
Casal's parents are from Uruguay. They immigrated to Canada, where she was born, then moved to the U.S. Gender and ethnicity barriers notwithstanding, "the reality is that I feel a stronger desire and drive to succeed and prove myself in the face of adversity," she says.
For Casal, diversity is important in all fields, but especially in biomedical engineering, where collaboration and interdisciplinary work are critical. "Our world is shrinking daily by the advancement in technology, to the point where collaboration across countries is possible," she says. "I believe that by enriching our level of diversity, we will increase the exposure of everyone to different ideas, cultures and backgrounds, which will serve to increase our overall comfort level and therefore our ability to work together cohesively and respectfully."
Casal earned her bachelors in chemical engineering with a concentration in biochemical engineering at Miami University (Oxford, OH) in 2009. After her PhD is done, she'd like to work in medical device design, pharmaceuticals or anything related to immunology.
The most challenging part of Casal's program is the research component, but it's also the most rewarding. "Since beginning the program, my ability to perform experiments and develop, troubleshoot and analyze them has improved tremendously," she says. "My expertise is specifically in sensor design for protein detection, but I now feel confident in my ability to design meaningful experiments regardless of the specific project."
OSU focuses on experiential learning
Roberto G. Rojas, PhD, associate dean and professional education professor of electrical and computer engineering at Ohio State, says experiential learning is the school's distinguishing trait. Students have team experiences that transcend the traditional lecture/lab approach.
"Our university ranks seventh nationally among all public universities in research expenditures and a remarkable second place in industry-sponsored research," says Rojas.
Demographics for its 1,973 grad students in the College of Engineering include 22.3 percent women, 53.4 percent international students and 37.2 percent Caucasian. OSU's minority engineering program is a comprehensive, multi-faceted program that assists the College of Engineering with the recruitment, retention, motivation and graduation of undergrad and grad African American, Hispanic and Native American students.
"One of our key values is to have a diverse faculty, staff and student body," says Rojas. "We believe that to achieve excellence, we must have a diverse graduate student body."
Richelle C. Thomas: PhD studies in ChE at UT Austin
Fifth-year grad student Richelle C. Thomas is pursuing her PhD in chemical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin (UT, Austin). "The chemical engineering program at UT Austin is ranked in the top five of programs in the U.S., so I was certain I would receive a sound education," she says.
When visiting UT's Cockrell School of Engineering, Thomas found the students, faculty and staff genuine and welcoming. "There was a true sense of working hard to produce high-quality research, while also retaining personal and social lives outside graduate school, which was important to me," she says. "I could see myself succeeding in the program and having a well- rounded life in Austin, TX. I was born in Texas and have Caribbean blood, so the warm weather sweetened the deal."
Thomas was born and raised in Dallas, TX. She's a Caribbean American, with family split between Texas and Barbados. She hasn't found that her cultural heritage is a barrier to her educational pursuits. "I choose to live my life only being concerned with what I have control over and what I can change," she says. "Anything more is counterproductive to my goals."
From Thomas' perspective, creativity is best brought about in settings that allow people from different backgrounds and experiences to come together. "I think all forms of diversity, including gender, ethnicity, geographic and more, are important for engineers to make relevant contributions to the societies in which we live," she says.
Thomas received her 2008 bachelors in chemical engineering from the University of Notre Dame (Notre Dame, IN). She is confident that her PhD will be a valuable asset to future employers.
"A PhD proves that you have the ability to identify a problem, craft a research plan and see the project through to completion, then determine next steps based on the results," says Thomas.
Raymond Valdes: PhD in ME at UC Santa Barbara
Raymond Valdes is a fourth-year PhD student at the University of California-Santa Barbara. "I decided to attend UC Santa Barbara because its mechanical engineering program is ranked in the top ten in the country," he says. It doesn't hurt that the school is in a beautiful location, close to his family, and offers a supportive structure for grad students.
He's specializing in fluid mechanics, heat transfer, numerical simulations and analytical methods. When he finishes his PhD, Valdes hopes to be a well-rounded researcher. "This means being an expert in my field, able to write and publish, mentor, teach and network with experts in many fields," he says.
Valdes was raised in Downey, CA, but his family is from Cuba and Mexico. At times, navigating the college and then grad school process has been a difficult and lonesome journey. "I feel very fortunate to have a very supportive family," he says. "I've also been able to find mentors to provide guidance and insight. This is why I am a graduate student advisor for the UC Santa Barbara Los Ingenieros (Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers) organization."
In 2009, Valdes graduated from the University of California-Irvine with dual bachelors in mechanical engineering and aerospace engineering.
"Cultivating a rich and diverse body of engineers is absolutely critical to developing the most creative and innovative solutions to our global problems," he says. "It's exciting to help grow young engineers into aspiring research scientists."
UC Santa Barbara pairs students with mentors
Kimberly L. Turner, PhD is professor and chair of mechanical engineering at the University of California- Santa Barbara. "A strong commitment to diversity is key to any graduate program," she says. "Ensuring that graduate students of any gender or ethnic background have a good educational experience is key to improving the demographics in industry and academia."
At UC-Santa Barbara students are paired with mentors. "I strongly feel that having female mentors can positively impact women graduate students and allow them to think about academic careers with more clarity," says Turner. "Just having a more balanced workplace will benefit both students and faculty."
In an effort to encourage more women and minorities to apply and graduate from its engineering program, the school involves students in its recruiting efforts. "Top candidates are brought in for on-campus visits, and are often awarded fellowships," says Turner. "We are developing a campaign now to raise money for additional fellowships for graduate students. Guaranteed support is one key way to successfully recruit top minority candidates."
Catherine Faye Whittington: Purdue PhD in biomedical engineering
Catherine Faye Whittington is pursuing a PhD at Purdue University's Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering in the College of Engineering. This is her sixth year in the program.
"Collaborative research has been the most challenging part of the program," she says. "But it's also the most rewarding. It's what I enjoy the most."
After earning her PhD, she'll be looking for a postdoctoral research position. Her eventual goal is to become a tenure-track faculty member.
Both of Whittington's parents are college grads. One of her brothers is an electrical engineer, and the other is also a college grad. "The importance of education was always emphasized at home, but I never felt pressured by my parents to do well in school," she says. For her undergraduate degree, Whittington attended Louisiana Tech University (Ruston, LA) and graduated summa cum laude in 2006 with a bachelors in biomedical engineering.
Whittington believes that engineers must understand the importance of working and interacting with people. "Our world is connected now more than ever, and we have to recognize that diversity is the face of our society, world and all engineering disciplines," she says.
Tarra M. Beach: CE PhD at Florida A&M
Tarra M. Beach is a fourth-year grad student at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU, Tallahassee, FL). She is pursuing her PhD in civil engineering with an emphasis in environmental engineering.
"Attending the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering allows me to pursue my research interest in the field of phytoremediation, a process that utilizes plants to remove or prevent the infiltration of pollutants into the soil and water in order to prevent the contamination of our potable water supply," she says.
With her PhD, Beach wants to make a positive impact on society and the environment. "As an environmental engineer, I hope to contribute to the sustainability of the environment," she says. "And I want to work on STEM education for underrepresented children, to help them discover the infinite value and potential they possess."
Beach earned her bachelors in chemistry at Tennessee State University (TSU, Nashville, TN) in 2000. Working full time, she stayed on for her masters in chemistry with an emphasis in biochemistry, and graduated in 2004. A year later, she accepted a scholarship at TSU's College of Engineering, Technology and Computer Science, and in 2007 she finished her masters in engineering with an emphasis in environmental engineering.
Like many diverse students, Beach has had to overcome barriers throughout her academic journey. One of the most significant was the loss of her mother as an undergrad. "When I returned home to help during my mother's illness, she constantly stressed the importance of my returning to school," she recalls. "Unfortunately, she did not see me graduate."
Beach finds doing effective research her greatest challenge and her greatest joy. "I enjoy solving intricate engineering problems and adding to the body of knowledge in my research area," she says.
Beach believes that engineering demands the contribution of an array of creative ideas to discover the best design solution. "Our differences permit us to understand other approaches to concepts," she says.
FAMU-FSU: a diverse faculty at state-of-the-art research facilities
According to Dr Yaw D. Yeboah, dean of the College of Engineering at FAMU-FSU, the school is able to recruit and retain a diverse graduate student body because of its diverse faculty, excellent programs, and nine state-of-the-art research facilities.
Masters and PhD programs are offered in biomedical, chemical, civil, electrical, industrial and mechanical engineering. There is also a new professional masters program in civil engineering and an interdisciplinary program in materials science and engineering. "Over twenty percent of our graduate students are women and overall forty percent are from groups that are underrepresented in engineering, including women, African Americans and Hispanics," says Yeboah.
"At the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering, diversity is a very important asset," notes Yeboah. "We work constantly to embrace, enhance and protect our great asset and live by our motto of quality, growth and diversity."
Diversity is not just race, gender or nationality at FAMU-FSU. It is represented in the interdisciplinary nature of the school's graduate degree programs. "We are exploring the interfaces between related disciplines needed to solve some of society's more difficult problems. Such efforts require individuals of diverse backgrounds and experiences," says Yeboah.
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