Feds Spend $299K to Make College Engineering More ‘Inclusive’

Project will explore ‘aspects of engineering culture that serve as impediments to LGBTQ equality’

July 9, 2015

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is pouring nearly $300,000 into making college engineering programs more "inclusive" to the LGBTQ community.

The NSF project began July 1, and is being conducted by the American Society For Engineering Education. The study will examine "aspects of engineering culture that serve as impediments" to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) individuals.

"There is compelling evidence that diversity among students and faculty is crucially important to the intellectual and social development of all students," according to a grant awarded last month. "This project aligns with the National Science Foundation's goal to promote a more diverse engineering workforce by promoting LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) equality in engineering—a group that has been underserved by other efforts to increase diversity in the profession."

The NSF has given $299,998 to the study, which is expected to last until June 2017.

The study will try to change engineering culture on college campuses by training professors to be "LGBTQ-affirming."

"While there has been a gradual positive change in campus climate for LGBTQ individuals, engineering departments have proven more impervious to inclusive practices than other disciplines," according to the grant. "By linking diversity research with a faculty development initiative, this project explores the aspects of engineering culture that serve as impediments to LGBTQ equality and uses this knowledge to design training to promote LGBTQ equality in engineering departments."

"Through face-to-face and online training coupled with an online community of practice, this project will build a network of LGBTQ-affirming faculty who are aware of strategies to foster an inclusive environment and are empowered to advance LGBTQ equality in their departments," the grant said.

Three of the five investigators on the project were part of the American Society For Engineering Education’s (ASEE) Diversity Committee. The committee’s associate chair is Adrienne Minerick, a professor in the Chemical Engineering Department at Michigan Technological University, who is a co-principal investigator for the NSF project.

The lead investigator on the NSF project is Stephanie Farrell, a professor in the Chemical Engineering Department at Rowan University and past ASEE vice president of member affairs. Rocio Chavela Guerra, the headquarters' staff liaison to the diversity committee, is also listed as a co-principal investigator.

An ASEE Diversity Committee newsletter last year gave details on the non-profit’s efforts to create "safe zones" on college campuses for the LGBT community.

"Safe Zone Ally Training is a two-part workshop for students, faculty, and the professional community during which participants explore the unique needs and concerns of LGBTQ people in higher education," according to the newsletter. "At the workshop, you will build knowledge and skills for creating a more inclusive and affirming environment and practice techniques to identify and interrupt discrimination."

Other investigators on the NSF Project include Tom Waidzunas, an assistant professor at Temple University, whose research focuses on the "intersections of sociology of sexuality, gender, science, technology, and the body," and Erin Cech, an assistant professor at Rice University.

Cech has studied "occupational sex segregation," and ways to recruit women, Native Americans, and LGBT individuals to science, technology, engineering, and math fields. She also researched "flexibility stigma," where offices devalue "workers who seek or are presumed to need flexible work arrangements."

"These consequences are net of gender and parenthood, suggesting that flexibility stigma fosters a problematic environment for many faculty, even those not personally at risk of stigmatization," Cech wrote in a recent paper.