NORMAN, Oklahoma - The School of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering in the Gallogly College of Engineering at the University of Oklahoma was recently selected as one of only five universities in the nation to participate in a special Transforming Engineering Culture to Advance Inclusion and Diversity program. The diversity program selected the school to help support and continue its ongoing efforts to attract and retain women and underrepresented minority students and faculty.
Funded by the National Science Foundation, the program seeks to close the gender and minority gap within mechanical engineering by helping universities create projects and curriculum to recruit and educate students, faculty and staff on diversity and inclusion.
"Complex mechanical problems require creative solutions," said Cengiz Altan, director of the School of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering at OU, professor and Transforming Engineering Culture to Advance Inclusion and Diversity team leader. "Finding those solutions means gathering a variety of diverse perspectives and expertise."
Altan said looking for those students needs to start early, even before the students enter college.
"We have programs at OU to reach underrepresented groups in high schools and help them prepare for engineering," he said.
Zahed Siddique, aerospace and mechanical engineering professor and Transforming Engineering Culture to Advance Inclusion and Diversity team member, is also working to bridge that gap. He collaborates with other faculty members, campus organizations and businesses to incorporate more focused education and training into the school's curriculum as well as in that of secondary school programs.
"Making large, impactful changes does not happen overnight, and our team cannot do it alone," Siddique said. "We are fortunate to have relationships with corporations and thriving organizations such as OU's Multicultural Engineering Program so we can share ideas, learn from their successful efforts and share that with young potential engineers."
Students are not the only beneficiaries to the program, which will also impact faculty and administration. Rebecca Norris, School of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering director's assistant and member of the Transforming Engineering Culture to Advance Inclusion and Diversity group, said she looks forward to the additional education and awareness for staff, since many people don't even recognize they are participating in and perpetuating prejudices.
"Because aerospace and mechanical engineering faculty and staff don't typically see overt racism or sexism, problems may not be readily apparent," Norris said. "But there are many instances where we negatively point out differences in people and aren't even aware we're doing it."
Norris explains that the School of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering's vision of a fully inclusive program includes students, faculty and staff from all backgrounds feeling comfortable and fully engaged in the educational process and having equal opportunities to be successful.
"One of our goals is to improve recruitment and increase retention of the best and brightest minds regardless of gender, ethnic background or sexual orientation," Norris said. "We hope that participating in Transforming Engineering Culture to Advance Inclusion and Diversity will give us the tools to do that."
The School of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering team completed its first workshop in Phoenix, Arizona, earlier this year. The five-person Transforming Engineering Culture to Advance Inclusion and Diversity team will attend two more workshops and participate in monthly virtual meetings with the program's administration and other participating universities. Altan said he anticipates the School of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering's focus on diversity and inclusion will continue when the 18-month program is complete, and he looks forward to implementing diversity projects as models for other departments at OU.
"Participating in Transforming Engineering Culture to Advance Inclusion and Diversity and learning from other universities recognized for their own diversity and inclusion programs will expand our recruiting and teaching opportunities," Altan said. "And when we can effectively reach and equip more talented, capable students, we respond to engineering challenges in ways that are more thoughtful, creative and ultimately, successful."
The Gallogly College of Engineering at the University of Oklahoma challenges students to solve the world's toughest problems through a powerful combination of education, entrepreneurship, research, and community service and student competitions. Research is focused on both basic and applied topics of societal significance, including biomedical engineering, energy, engineering education, civil infrastructure, nanotechnology and weather technology.
The programs within the college's eight areas of study are consistently ranked in the top third of engineering programs in the United States. The college faculty has achieved research expenditures of more than $22 million and created 12 start-up companies.