A newly established engineering student board aims to put a spotlight on the work of underrepresented minorities.
Engineering seniors Alberto Jimenez and Justin Gonsalves, both mechanical engineering and applied mechanics majors, founded the Underrepresented Student Advisory Board for Engineers to encourage their peers and push for recruitment of underrepresented students and faculty.
The duo started speaking to administrators about their ideas following the presidential election, which Gonsalves said “really hit home.”
“Everybody was in the same mindset like ‘Alright we need to talk about this,'” Jimenez said. “We figured it was the perfect time to lead it off.”
The board was officially established last December once bylaws, board positions and a constitution for the group were created.
Their goals are to increase visibility of minorities within engineering and to create an environment where all students, faculty and staff feel comfortable expressing their identity. Jimenez and Gonsalves mentioned that although the group’s goals for the board are manifested in the bylaws, new members will bring fresh objectives and aspirations for the group that could change the direction of the board.
Both students have experience running cultural organizations: Jimenez is the former president of Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers and Gonsalves is the former president of the National Society of Black Engineers.
Their ideas range from displaying “success stories” of minority engineers on televisions in the engineering buildings to encouraging recruitment of underrepresented students and faculty.
The board has mandated that leadership positions be allocated to represent members of certain underrepresented groups — not typical for the average advisory board. In addition to two open board positions, there are spots for the presidents of minority engineering clubs including SHPE and NSBE, one graduate student position and a woman of color position.
“We had a deep conversation with [Engineering Dean Vijay Kumar and Associate Dean Russell Composto],” Jimenez said. “What does it mean to be a minority and what does it mean to be underrepresented in engineering?”
“The population for women in engineering is growing,” Jimenez continued. “However, women of color are still casted outside. We wanted to make sure that they have a voice alongside other underrepresented minorities in engineering.”
The advisory board plans to host monthly town hall meetings for interested engineering students. These open forums will serve as spaces where undergraduate and graduate students can freely communicate any concerns that arise.
“We really want this to be a board that learns about problems through the town halls, through the student body and presents them to the administration,” Gonsalves said.
Both graduating this May, Jimenez and Gonsalves planted the seed for initiatives they hope will grow during the next academic year.
Jimenez will continue in Penn Engineering as a master’s student, so he plans on acting as a mentor for the advisory board as they initiate these goals and bring in new students.
Engineering senior Natalie Melo said she is “excited” about the initiatives. “I think it’s a great move towards adding and encouraging some more diversity in engineering,” she added.
When asked what advice he would give incoming underrepresented engineering students, Jimenez said he “would advise them to boast.”
“Show off,” he said. “What do you is cool. You might be the only woman, the only black kid, the only hispanic in class. But what you’re doing is really relevant and you need to show it because other people will admire that.”
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