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The University of Michigan College of Engineering welcomed Brandi P. Jones, Vice Dean for Diversity and Strategic Initiatives at University of Southern California’s Viterbi School of Engineering as a part of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion lecture series in Pierpont Commons Tuesday afternoon. Jones spoke to Michigan faculty about supporting Black engineering students at the University. About 50 faculty and students attended the event. 

 Jones has over twenty years of experience working in higher education. Her job consists of overseeing the graduation and retention rates for underrepresented students at USC. During her talk, she highlighted the problems American institutions often fail to address when working with Black engineering students. 

“I think it’s critical to understand specific populations particularly when there are differences in the way those populations are experiencing colleges of engineering,” Jones said. 

Jones drew on data from the 2017 University of Michigan Campus Climate Study. According to the study, Black engineers have different experiences compared to other engineering students. 

“In the area of feeling that they are treated fairly and equitably by others, Black students report much lower than the overall population,” Jones said. “When asked if they feel that they belong at University of Michigan the majority of students said ‘yes.’ In this case the outliers were Black students.”

Rackham student Jocelyn Jackson, a first-year Ph.D. student in Engineering Education Research and the national chair for the National Society of Black Engineers, attended Jones’s talk. She reflected on how she hopes faculty will take initiative to bring about change in the engineering community. 

“I think that the people who are really curious to learn and everyone that did come to the seminar I hope that they are able to hear diverse perspectives, but then think about what they’re going to do and how they’re going to be a change agent,” Jones said.

Jones said students would most likely be engaged in engineering and STEM fields if they had the support of their community. She recalled that students she spoke to often felt isolated by peers in large lecture halls and revealed anonymous quotes from students at the school of engineering. 

“‘No one wants to partner with me in class. I’m always the last choice because I’m Black,’” Jones recalled the student telling her.

Jones then went on to explain how professors and advisors at the University of Michigan can communicate with Black engineers in order to provide a more supportive and welcoming community. 

“When you see them isolated if there’s group work then perhaps this is where you make the groups, perhaps you go in and you say ‘I know this is going to be an issue, so I’m going to create a situation where we’ve got to be inclusive,’” Jones said. 

Rackham student Corin Bowen attended the talk and expressed how she hopes the face of engineering at U-M and in America will change. 

“The demographics that currently exist in the College of Engineering does not represent this local area, they don’t represent the state, they don’t represent the country, and they don’t represent the world. We have to move in that direction and we need the kind of structural changes that we started touching on today in order to do that,” Bowen said. 

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