Pitt | Swanson Engineering

Welcome from the Associate Dean of Diversity


Sylvanus WosuIt is my pleasure to welcome you to the Swanson School of Engineering (SSOE) Office of Diversity. SSOE diversity refers to the integrated differences and similarities that all individuals and programs contribute in the academic mission of the school. The mission of the Engineering Office of Diversity (EOD) is to create and sustain learning and working environments where those differences and similarities are valued and respected, and all students, especially women and underrepresented students are included and empowered to excel in engineering education. EOD provides continuous academic and community support services through four program areas: the Pitt Engineering Career Access Program (PECAP) pre-college INVESTING NOW and college Pitt EXCEL Programs, Diversity Graduate Engineering Program (DGEP), and Diversity Education Program (DEP).

Sylvanus N. Wosu, PhD

Associate Dean for Diversity Affairs

Sep
9
2020

When Words Aren’t Enough: EXCEL Students Reflect on Inequities in Education

Diversity, Student Profiles

In the wake of George Floyd’s death, a new generation of digital age students were awakened to the deep-rooted issues that contribute to racism in higher education. Now, they are dedicating energy to solve those issues, in their own communities and beyond. At the University of Pittsburgh, a group of Swanson School of Engineering students and alumni plan to push for sustained change and hope that the University will unite to create a better environment for everyone. They want to help colleges and universities evolve into places that feel welcoming and accessible for students of all races, sexual orientations, and backgrounds. In doing this, they hope to create a rippling effect that will contribute to equality in the workforce and society as a whole. Finding a Space to be Black One challenge that underrepresented students in STEM face is the feeling that they cannot be authentically themselves and also fit in. Many students feel that they must code-switch in order to succeed. Pitt alumnus Rodney Kizito (BS IE ‘15) lauded the Swanson School and Yvette Moore’s efforts in establishing and directing Pitt EXCEL, a diversity program for underrepresented engineering students, which gives them a space to be themselves and support one another. “EXCEL gives us that sense of family and belonging where not everybody looks like you, but you’re all connected and share a common love and respect,” he said. “You don’t find many programs like this, and I haven’t had a comparable experience in my 10 years in academia.” When students discuss an inclusive environment, among other things, they want a place where they feel represented, heard, equal, and accepted. Sam Copeland, a junior in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, worked with EXCEL’s Summer Engineering Academy (SEA), which helps students make a smooth transition from high school to college. He echoed Kizito’s sentiment and saw its impact on the students’ choice in college. “The students in SEA have been coming because of the Pitt EXCEL family,” he said. “With COVID-19 and the current racial justice movements, they’ve really felt the power of EXCEL. They understand that we’re not just trying to meet a diversity quota. We want to support you and help you be the best person you can be.” Pitt EXCEL is an example of the space and inclusivity that students seek and how that can drive participation in college programs. However, according to the students, creating a space to be Black is only one of the gears that need to shift. Representation Matters Bringing diverse faculty to the educational system is part of the change that the students want to see. Enacting that change may not only help recruit and retain underrepresented minorities, but also provide something as simple as a fresh perspective on how race and culture intersect with various disciplines. “Because engineering has a deep relationship within the public sector, racial cultures should have a larger component in the design of some structure,” said Copeland. “More often than not, it is just avoided because it makes people ‘awkward’ or ‘uncomfortable.’” Given how engineering can impact the human condition, the students believe that the curriculum should represent and reflect the diverse global population and not assume a one-size-fits-all approach. “We aren’t written into the curriculum,” said Rene Canady (BS BioE ’20). “It’s not just Black people; in general, people of color are omitted from today’s education.” In creating a more inclusive curriculum, they believe that engineers can better serve society as a whole. A Call to Action As everyone begins to navigate the fall semester, the Swanson School students do not want the passion and drive for this movement to slow. For many, it is not simply a change of behavior; it is a change of mentality. Individuals may have to grapple with their own shortcomings and way of thinking. “I think those that acknowledge the struggle but fail to acknowledge the privilege that they have are the ones who may fall short in how far they can go to truly help us,” said Kizito. From July 28-30, the University of Pittsburgh’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion hosted Diversity Forum 2020, Advancing Social Justice: A Call to Action. Ibram X. Kendi, director of the Center for Anti-racist Research at Boston University and author of How to Be an Anti-Racist, delivered the keynote in which he said, “To do nothing is to be complicit because that allows for the maintenance of racism.” The students in EXCEL want to have conversations about sacrifices people are willing to make in order to help others feel like they belong. “It’s not enough just to say that you’re not racist, we should strive to be anti-racist, as Dr. Kendi discussed in the Diversity Forum,” said Yemisi Odunlami, a senior in industrial engineering. “We all have some level of privilege, and we have to be able to recognize that and be willing to lose it so we can have an even playing field. “You don’t have to personally know a person of color to feel affected and want to enact change,” she continued. “The Marathon Continues” This year’s major events are a marathon; whether discussing the pandemic or racial justice, change is not going to happen in a day, but one has to keep running and fighting. And so, as EXCEL alumna Sossena Wood (BSEE ‘11 PhD BioE ’18) says, the marathon continues. “I was in high school when Black Lives Matter started, and I remember you couldn’t have posters or even a sticker on your binder,” recalled Odunlami. “Now corporations and universities are saying it, so I definitely feel hopeful, but we need to keep things moving.” She, like many others, feels optimistic for the future but wants to experience continuous inclusivity, not just after tragedies. “Each generation has had their own contribution to getting us to where we feel that level of equality,” said Kizito. “I’m definitely hopeful, and I feel blessed to witness what’s happening right now.” These engineering students, who have had both positive and negative experiences as underrepresented minorities in higher education, hope to see a transformation and believe that these changes will make it a better environment for the university as a whole in the years to come. # # # Resources Swanson School of Engineering’s Office of Diversity Pitt’s Center on Race and Social Problems (CRSP) Justice in June - a resource compiled by Autumn Gupta with Bryanna Wallace’s oversight for the purpose of providing a starting place for individuals trying to become better allies. Anti-racism for beginners Other educational resources Follow @BlackOwnedPGH on Instagram to support local Black-owned businesses Literature: White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son by Tim Wise Uprooting Racism: How White People Can Work for Racial Justice by Paul Kivel. White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism by Robin DiAngelo How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do by Jennifer L. Eberhardt Dowd, Alicia C., and Estela Mara Bensimon. Engaging the Race Question: Accountability and Equity in U.S. Higher Education. New York: Teachers College Press, 2015. Harper, Shaun R. Race Matters in College. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, forthcoming. Museus, Samuel D., and Uma M. Jayakumar. Creating Campus Cultures: Fostering Success among Racially Diverse Student Populations. New York: Routledge, 2012. Quaye, Stephen John, and Shaun R. Harper. Student Engagement in Higher Education: Theoretical Perspectives and Practical Approaches for Diverse Populations. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2014. Smith, Daryl G. Diversity’s Promise for Higher Education: Making It Work. 2nd ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015. Steele, Claude M. Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do. New York: W. W. Norton, 2011. Sue, Derald Wing. Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2010. Sue, Derald Wing. Race Talk and the Conspiracy of Silence: Understanding and Facilitating Difficult Dialogues on Race. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley,

Aug
31
2020

Pork Dumplings with a Side of Wisdom, on ‘Seasoned’

Diversity, Student Profiles

Nse O’Dean had prepared some of his ingredients ahead of time: He had chicken in a plastic bag, coated with a vibrant blend of curry spices; a bag of frozen vegetables on stand-by; and a pan on the back burner. He adjusted the camera (his phone, propped up on the counter), poured some oil into a hot pan, and began chatting about his job, his car and his future plans. With his face ever-so-slightly out of frame, the recent graduate of University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering shared his cooking steps with all the ambiguity of a true family recipe. All the while, he fielded live questions from an audience of Pitt EXCEL students and friends: “What gave you the most anxiety when you got out of college?” “How do you get back to your focus if you find yourself feeling lost?” and “How do you get comfortable with the unknown?” It’s true across cultures and throughout time: Cooking brings people together. It’s a way of sharing traditions and culture while caring for the people closest to us. It was with that in mind that Pitt EXCEL, the undergraduate diversity program at the Swanson School, created the Seasoned video series on Instagram. Each 45-minute, biweekly Instagram Live video welcomes a member of the Pitt EXCEL community to share wisdom on a given topic while cooking a dish of their choosing. Delicate red velvet waffles, tidy pork dumplings and spicy Tuscan shrimp pasta were created live on camera while the chefs answered questions about careers, identity and navigating today’s world. The mind behind the series is Halima Morafa, a Pitt EXCEL member and a junior studying mechanical engineering. She worked with Yvette Moore, director of Pitt EXCEL, to develop the idea. They wanted to showcase both the wisdom inherent in the community and the cooking skills developed during quarantine. “Seasoned came to me as an expression that no matter what, food and conversation will bring people together. The connection is bigger than the divide,” said Moore. “It was a time for the young Pitt EXCEL Scholars to learn from some of their legacies. “Sometimes, as people of color we forget we have a legacy that is strong and rich. This is what Seasoned created while we all were able to sit around our virtual kitchens,” she added. Seasoned has been a perfect antidote to the fatigue caused by the pandemic, the loneliness of quarantining and the stress around the Black Lives Matter movement.  “I’ve always seen food as the center of a community. Seasoned was something lighthearted and gave us a time to connect with family and be there for each other,” said Morafa. “With everything being virtual, it feels good to have community engagement, but with real conversations about real things.” The videos themselves feel casual and personal—as if the host, who relays questions and provides comment, is chatting with a friend who happens to be making dinner—but the topics make for impactful discussions. “I loved listening in on conversations as there were always nuggets of wisdom I took from them,” said Ruby DeMaio (ChemE ’22), a current EXCEL student. “Pitt EXCEL has a really great relationship with our alumni, and this was definitely a different way of getting to hear from them. Overall the series came across as very organic and I can't wait for it to come back!” Seasoned created a space for alumni to connect with their friends and support one another, as well. “I kept tuning in because each person featured was someone that I had the chance to get to know during my time at Pitt so I got the chance to hear from them and watch them make a new cuisine at the same time,” said Jahari Mercer (IE ‘20), an EXCEL alum. “Pitt Excel really is one big family, and so I tuned in to be around my family. I had the chance to see others tuning in and chat with them while we were all online. “For me, it was fun just to laugh and hear from others that you don't get to physically see during this time.” So far, viewers have heard from several EXCEL alumni: Rene Canady about growing pains while learning to make red velvet waffles; Nse O’Dean created his feast of curried chicken, peas and rice and chow mein while discussing being comfortable with the unknown. Christine Nguyen talked about giving back to the community while sharing her take on bun rieu, a Vietnamese crab noodle soup, and Kiara Lee showcased her colorful salad techniques while chatting about work-life balance. Current students also shared their wisdom. Morafa chatted about the importance of good communication while preparing Tuscan shrimp pasta with an added kick, and Sydney Anderson, a senior studying chemical engineering, shared her insights on building self-confidence, while creating pork dumplings. “All the chefs have been great with a plethora of knowledge,” said Morafa. “All around, it’s a fun show to tune into and learn something from peers. It lets us connect with our family over the summer.” Though the series was set to run only until the end of the summer, the videos remain on Instagram to inspire. Find all of the Seasoned videos on Pitt EXCEL’s Instagram (@PittEXCEL).
Maggie Pavlick
Jun
19
2020

A Message from U.S. Steel Dean James Martin II on the 155th Celebration of Juneteenth

All SSoE News, Diversity, Office of Development & Alumni Affairs, Investing Now



May
20
2020

Pitt alumna and Alabama engineer Renee Corbett '16 helping NYC homeless fight COVID-19

Covid-19, Civil & Environmental, Diversity, Student Profiles, Office of Development & Alumni Affairs

This story was originally published by AL.com. In New York City, the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States, the virus that’s forced most people indoors is forcing the homeless outdoors. Renee Corbett, a native of Huntsville who works with the international aid group, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF, has seen it first-hand. Corbett, a civil and environmental engineer by training, is in New York working with an MSF team providing hygiene service and infection control to New York’s homeless population. With public bathrooms and recreation centers closed, the places where homeless people could bathe are gone. So Corbett’s team operates two mobile shower facilities for people that need it. “At our showers we are meeting many people who say that they are choosing to live on the streets instead of in shelters because they feel that they are safer from COVID-19 on the streets,” she said. Before the global pandemic, Corbett had worked primarily in Africa, providing water and hygiene to people in Ethiopia and Sudan. It seems odd that providing a simple need: clean water and a place to bathe, would be just as necessary in America’s largest city as it is in wilds of Africa. ... Read the full article here.
Author: Shelly Haskins, AL.com
May
5
2020

Swanson School of Engineering Names Natasa Vidic as 2020 Outstanding Educator

Industrial, Diversity, Office of Development & Alumni Affairs

PITTSBURGH (May 5, 2020) — The University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering recognized Natasa Vidic, PhD, assistant professor of industrial engineering, with the 2020 Outstanding Educator Award. This competitive award recognizes her excellence in teaching and innovative work in improving learning methodologies for undergraduate students. The award includes a $2,000 grant to further enhance the recipient’s teaching. Vidic received her PhD from the University of Pittsburgh in 2008 and hired as a Visiting Professor immediately after. She joined the Department of Industrial Engineering as an assistant professor in 2010. Since then, she has taught over 3,500 engineering students and frequently has more than 200 students per semester. “Natasa has worked tirelessly as a valued member of the Undergraduate Committee to make sure our students receive the best possible learning experience,” said Bopaya Bidanda, PhD, Ernest E. Roth Professor and chair of the Department of Industrial Engineering. “She is always working towards improve her courses each year both in content and technique, and has led the effort to review core course content in the entire curriculum to ensure that there is no duplication, and that technical material is integrated in a logical progression.” In addition to her course load and committee work, Vidic has spent the past decade researching engineering education, where she focuses on improving engineering students’ learning strategies through models and modeling. “This award reaffirms my past efforts to improve student learning outcomes,” said Vidic. “It inspires me to work even harder to make sure that we continue to offer outstanding education to our students and help them reach their potential.” Vidic was one of the first faculty members in the Swanson School to “flip” her class, a teaching method that presents the lecture content online for students to watch before class, leaving class time for discussing and applying the material. “Since the very first course I took from Dr. Vidic, I admired her ability to engage a classroom.  Even in a setting of over eighty students, you never felt as though you were just sitting through another hour and a half lecture,” said Sean Callaghan, who graduated with his BS in industrial engineering in 2019. “Most of the time, you were having a conversation with either a small group or the entire room and talking through the complex theories and problems that Dr. Vidic had just presented that day.” Vidic’s open-door policy has solidified her role as a mentor and advisor to a growing number of undergraduates. Among them is senior industrial engineering student Jacob Richards, who said, “I fervently believe that there is no faculty member like her, that she is one of those special cases that mean so much to people like me and that without her, I would not be where I am today.” The Outstanding Educator Award is usually presented in person at a meeting for faculty; however, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the award was announced by U.S. Steel Dean of Engineering James R. Martin II in his address to the graduating industrial engineering class. “Improving the way we teach and serve students is a goal toward which we strive, and Natasa has been a tremendous role model in that respect,” said Martin. “The Swanson School is proud to have her among our faculty as she emboldens the next generation of the engineers to solve the toughest problems and advance the human condition.”
Maggie Pavlick

Diversity
128B Benedum Hall
3700 O'Hara Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15260
Tel: 412-624-9842
Fax:412-624-1108
Email: eodadmin@pitt.edu

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