Engineering Diversity and Outreach program builds bridges between students

University of Connecticut students show off their posters centering around outreach and diversity programs during the UConn Engineering Diversity Program and Outreach center's showcase in the Student Union Ballroom on Monday, April 25, 2016. (Jason Jiang/The Daily Campus)

The University of Connecticut Engineering Diversity Program and Outreach Center held a showcase at the Student Union Ballroom Monday night, highlighting the various programs that facilitate outreach and diversity programs and events for engineering students.

“Our mission is to diversify the School of Engineering,” said Engineering Ambassador Esther Kim, who helps to run tours for prospective engineering majors. “It opens up opportunities for students, helps open up to the public and gets K-12 students into STEM.”

The event included several of UConn’s engineering organizations, including the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), Society of Women Engineers (SWE), Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE), Engineers Without Borders (EWB) and the Engineer Ambassadors. Each organization showcased the projects completed over the past year, along with future plans for growth.

“Our major objective is to increase the number of underrepresented engineers,” said Kevin McLaughlin, director of the Engineering Diversity & Outreach Center (EDOC). “Engineers solve problems, and if you have a variety of people from different backgrounds looking at it, the solution is easier to find.”

McLaughlin helps run BRIDGE, a five-week summer program for underrepresented groups in the engineering major, with the goal of fostering a close-knit community of students that can work as a team on engineering projects.

An important aspect of the EDOC are the Engineering Ambassadors, who help with community outreach.

“We try to inspire young kids about science,” said ambassador Chloe Vollaro, a fourth-semester mechanical engineering major. “We target schools with underrepresented students in engineering. We bring out presentations about engineering, nanoparticles and such to to middles schools and high schools – we show them what engineers do.”

Vollaro feels that outreach is an important part about engineering and the sciences and enjoys the opportunity to teach others about her career choice.

“I can make a difference in someone’s life with the skills I have,” she said.

One of the noted minorities in the sciences is the female gender – an issue that the Society of Women Engineers is trying to resolve.

Students gather around their array of posters during the University of Connecticut's Engineering Diversity and Outreach center's showcase at the Student Union ballroom on Monday, April 25, 2016. (Jason Jiang/The Daily Campus)

“Girls are encouraged to find something easy,” said SWE President Katie Francis, a sixth-semester chemical engineering major. “As they go through high school they’re discouraged from taking math and sciences classes, and it continues in college.”

The SWE helps students through various programs and events, including LinkedIn workshops, internship panels and meetings with professionals in the field.

Francis emphasizes the importance of balance between the genders in the sciences, engineering in particular.

“Women think differently than men,” she said. “Increasing the proportion of women helps introduce a different perspective, and helps create better solutions to problems.”

EDOC also helps people on both a global and local level, through Engineers Without Borders. One of their local projects this year was CLiCK, a Community Licensed Cooperative Kitchen, which is available for rent by local farmers to help process their products into salable preserves.

EWB members helped design a rainwater collection system for the program, along with hiring contractors to help expand the project.

On a global level, engineering students get involved hands-on to help communities farm efficiently. Funded entirely by grants and student-based fundraisers, EWB members are flying over to a community in northwest Ethiopia to help design and build an effective rainwater collection and irrigation system to help the local farmers.

All in all, the EDOC helps reach out to students and people a school wide, community-wide and a worldwide level, helping engineering students connect to each other as they make their way through their major.

Esther Kim emphasized the level of closeness develop though the programs.  

“We’re a family,” she said. “We’re a team that can do it all together.”