College of Engineering Celebrates Diversifying STEM

Through outreach, mentorship, internships, and capacity development, the College of Engineering has expanded its efforts to nurture underrepresented students in STEM and improve DE&I in the college.
College of Engineering Celebrates Diversifying STEM
Niani Mays, rising senior and JANUS undergraduate fellow, on stage at the 2021 State of the U Address speaking about her participation in the program. Pictured alongside Brian Breslin, Director of the Launch Pad at the University of Miami.

As we close another successful academic year, the College of Engineering highlights the work towards diversity and inclusion done by groups such as the Joint Academic Nurtureship for Underrepresented Students (JANUS) and the student chapter of the National Society for Black Engineers (NSBE). Championing diversity, equity, and inclusion are core values of the College of Engineering. We are committed to increasing the representation of Black engineers and ethnically diverse engineers more generally, as well as providing encouragement and support for professional success and positive community impact.

During the past academic year, these groups have initiated activities and engagement opportunities for students, including meet and greet events, organizing workshops, and networking with corporate partners. Click here to view the various activities of NSBE at the University Miami.

Faculty leadership

The College’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committee forms a significant part of these efforts, exploring ways to enhance diversity in teaching, research, and community work, as well as seeking to hire faculty members from underrepresented groups. The committee is made up of Dr. Vincent Omachonu, Professor and Chair, Industrial and Systems Engineering, Dr. Helena Solo-Gabriele, Professor, Chemical, Environmental, and Materials Engineering, and Dr. Ashutosh Agarwal, Associate Professor, Biomedical Engineering.

Through these initiatives, the College engages professors to develop processes and resources toward greater diversity and inclusive learning. This past March, we celebrated our 4th annual Teaching and Learning Innovation in STEAM with a keynote from Reed College’s Dr. Katheryn Oleson, on Promoting Inclusive Classroom Dynamics in STEAM.

Dr. Ashutosh Agarwal, Department of Biomedical Engineering, founded JANUS in 2020 to support Black undergraduate students in STEM as well as local public high school students. JANUS provides role models and mentorship to disenfranchised high school students and paid internship opportunities to undergraduates. Over the course of the program’s first two cohorts, undergraduates and high school mentees have jointly become more confident, engaged leaders, and created a community based on mutual empowerment in a cutting-edge research environment.

Dr. Pratim Biswas, Dean of the College of Engineering and Professor of Chemical, Environmental, and Materials Engineering, reaffirms the College’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committee, explained the efforts to “develop ideas and activities to not only create such an environment in our college, but also connect to various activities at the University and community at large.”

This year, University of Miami’s Toppel Career Center recognized JANUS with a #BreakThru Award for its work in breaking down barriers for Black students, especially those in foster care. Aware that only half of foster youth typically finish high school and 3% obtain a college degree, JANUS demystifies college and STEM careers for foster youth by connecting them to peers and mentors. The hands-on learning experiences that JANUS provides builds the confidence of its participants and opens a world of possibilities. In addition, faculty members engaged with JANUS are exploring the history of anti-black racism in the United States, through educational opportunities created for them.

Dr. Biswas explains that in addition to this work, the College is seeking opportunities to develop programs with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) as well as high schools to promote STEM education and encourage individuals in underrepresented communities pursue careers in STEM.

“This diversity will also be beneficial to our students, staff, and faculty at large, and the multi-culturalism will enable us all to do what we do better,” concluded Dean Biswas.

A model of mentorship

Niani Mays, rising senior and JANUS undergraduate fellow, said, “The most rewarding part about being chosen for JANUS was having the chance to mentor other young Black students to help prepare them for college.” As the Programs Chair for the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), Mays “recognize[s] there is a huge need for young black academics in the research and graduate world today.” NSBE won awards for Outstanding Civic Engagement and Outstanding Development at this year’s College of Engineering Honors Convocation.

This summer, Mays found an internship at Edwards Lifesciences in Irvine, California, designing heart valves and other medical devices. Her role involves, “taking design innovations and creating a clear plan for our manufacturing plants to begin producing these medical devices they create in Irvine.”

For Joy Jackson, rising senior and JANUS undergraduate fellow, the program has meant, “invaluable experiences, meaningful connections, and tremendous growth as a student.” Her involvement has made her much more interested in research. “Not only did JANUS provide me with my first research experience,” Jackson said, “but it also prepared me for other positions. Since then, I've participated in a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program at Georgia Tech and I'm currently working as a research intern for the National Institutes of Health.”

JANUS provides high school mentees, “a face, a voice, an experience they can associate with, and of course, it sparks love for research, discovery, sciences, and hands-on learning,” said Dr. Ashutosh Agarwal. One high school mentee said, “I see myself in my mentor and, in many ways, she inspires me to keep reaching for my dreams. I can easily relate to her because she is a woman of color in a STEM field and that is what I aspire to be in the future.”