Nathan Kahl Managing Director American Society for Engineering Education

ASEE Welcomes First African American Female President

PostedWednesday, July 12, 2017 at 3:25 PM

At the American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference at the end of June, we welcomed our first African American female president, Bev Watford of Virginia Tech.

Bev is passionate. And that passion has me excited to have her as our leader for this year.

See, Bev and I go back at least 15 years, to when I was a wet-behind-the-ears project assistant at the NAE and she served on a committee I worked with. (As an aside, at the 2016 ASEE Annual Conference in New Orleans, after her election as president-elect, Bev and I were looking over the Mississippi River from a restaurant balcony and I marveled, “Who would have thought all those years ago one day you would be ASEE president and I’d be an ASEE managing director?!”)  Along my professional path, I’ve been fortunate enough to bump into her in various capacities, and her personality and style is such that she has left deep impressions on me.

Among the thing she’s passionate about, a diverse engineering education community is perhaps the foremost. In fact, Bev has made it clear that this will be a focus during her tenure.

In maybe the best speech I’ve heard from an ASEE President (and I’ve heard some good ones), at her swearing-in at the 2017 ASEE conference Bev quoted former NAE President Bill Wulf when he said, “Sans diversity, we limit the set of life experiences that are applied, and as a result, we pay an opportunity cost - a cost in products not built, in designs not considered, in constraints not understood, in processes not invented.” Bev went on to make a very public commitment to embracing diversity of all types into ASEE.  This, following the ASEE Year of Action on Diversity a couple years ago, demonstrates that this concern is an ongoing and part of who we are at ASEE. It’s not just lip service.

But what does that mean to PreK-12 educators?  It means that a consideration of diversity is starting to deeply permeate the things that individual and institutional ASEE members do, and this should impact the way we interact with you and your students.  From the outreach materials we produce, to how we present materials at college fairs, to the support we give to K-12 institutions, to the regions where we focus outreach efforts, to who we hire, to what kind of freshmen classes are offered and how they’re designed…I could go on. The rapidly changing demographics of the K-12 population is forcing engineering educators to consider what new incoming cohorts will look like, and, with new and different characteristics, how to best educate them. Further, a growing population of typically underrepresented groups in engineering higher ed provides role models for our young students, and presents to them a pathway to a rewarding career.

One final item of interest: In her speech Bev announced that in April 2018, we will co-host the 1st Annual Conference of the Collaborative for Inclusion and Diversity in Engineering and Information Technology. Under the banner “Alone we are Strong; Together We are Stronger,” the conference will bring together all those working to achieve increased participation for all under-represented groups. Keep an eye open for more information.

And please check in on ASEE over the course of the next year to see the strides we continue to make to support diversity in the interest of strengthening engineering education.


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