January 30, 2023
Last month, the College of Engineering’s Office of Inclusive Excellence was awarded a prestigious award status by the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE). This award names the UW’s College of Engineering a national leader in inclusive excellence.
“Inclusive excellence fosters student development within STEM, but more importantly equity and belonging,” said Karen Thomas-Brown, the College’s associate dean of diversity and inclusion. “Our goal is to prepare engineers to work in a diverse society and be able to innovate for people who may have different perspectives.”
Thomas-Brown, who leads the Office of Inclusive Excellence, shared how requests for graduates with diverse perspectives and strong cross-cultural skills from employers have been growing.
“Think about the recent finding that facial recognition software is more likely to misidentify brown and black people as criminals. A more diverse engineering team can help identify blind spots,” Thomas-Brown said. “Employers have been expressing a desire to hire engineers with different perspectives and with cross-cultural soft skills. Engineers are increasingly expected to work with teams located across the world.”
One of the most striking achievements that helped the Office of Inclusive Excellence earn the ASEE award was the team’s efforts to include student input in the design of the new Interdisciplinary Engineering Building. Scheduled for completion in 2024, the building will be a hub for engineering undergraduates and will include space for student services, meeting rooms and state-of-the-art learning spaces.
“The architects had inclusion as a fundamental vision for the building, but they couldn’t quite get the input they needed from students,” Thomas-Brown shared. “My team helped create questions for students in a way that ensured students felt comfortable sharing information about their lived experiences.”
The feedback from students impacted the final design plan. Changes included a plan for the art on the walls, designated rooms for student affinity groups, a prayer room and the addition of a lactation room for nontraditional students.
“It is absolutely critical that in an education for engineers we elevate the notion of diversity, equity and inclusion because engineers innovate for our diverse world.”
The collaboration between the building’s planners and UW students is a model for Thomas-Brown’s vision for inclusive innovation.
“It is absolutely critical that in an education for engineers we elevate the notion of diversity, equity and inclusion because engineers innovate for our diverse world,” Thomas-Brown said. “We won this award because we have a strong strategic plan with measurable goals to make this vision a reality.”
Recently the Office of Inclusive Excellence launched an incident reporting platform, developed an online training on land acknowledgment and brought three engineering scholarship programs under the Pathways to Inclusive Excellence program to better serve UW students.
“I was so thrilled to share the news about this award with my team,” Thomas-Brown said. “It means we are doing the work.”