2018 Diversity in STEM Summit Brings Together Diverse Problem-Solvers

Tandon Students Join Industry Leaders, Faculty, and Alumni to Envision Energy Efficient and Inclusive Cities

group shot of diversity summit panelists

Anita Farrington, Associate Dean of Student Affairs (third from right) flanked by luncheon Lightning Talk speakers. 

­In 2014 Associate Dean of Student Affairs Anita Farrington brainstormed a way to increase not only the number of underrepresented minorities at NYU Tandon but to stress the importance of diversity throughout the engineering world. She conceived of an all-day summit that would bring to the school a wide array of participants to share ideas, inspire the students and each other, and prove the value of diverse, collaborative teams in solving the world’s most pressing issues. The first NYU Tandon Diversity in STEM Summit was held the following year, and it immediately became one of the most eagerly awaited annual events on the school calendar.

The 2018 Diversity in STEM Summit was held earlier this month, and with its theme, “Smart Cities: Energy at the Forefront, Locally and Globally,” the event looked at the topic of how to design cities to fully prioritize inclusivity, taking into account all income levels, all ages, and all cultures. The question could not have been more timely — or more interesting to Tandon students seeking to play a role in creating equitable, tech-enabled cities; finding sources of cleaner energy; and ensuring the health of our planet.

The Summit featured several high-wattage speakers at sessions throughout the day. Learn more about their priorities, advice, and vision.

Clayton Banks, Co-founder and CEO of Silicon Harlem:

Look at something simple like curb cuts; they were put in place to help those in wheelchairs but they benefit so many others – parents with strollers, anyone dragging a suitcase. It’s an example that when you do the right thing and the best thing for a group in need, it helps all of us. And now young people have the chance to get everyone to the table and build an entire infrastructure for equality.”

Daniela Blanco, Tandon Student and Co-Founder of Sunthetics:

Choose what you love to do and what is important to you, and if you are lucky enough to be at a place like NYU Tandon, take advantage of all the resources and support offered to you. Those factors are responsible for much of the success of our company, as we work to reduce the carbon footprint of the chemical manufacturing industry.”

Fatima Crerar, Director of Social Impact and Sustainability at ecobee:

One of my guiding principles comes from urban planner Jane Jacobs, who once said, “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”

Anita Farrington, NYU Tandon’s Associate Dean of Student Affairs:

At Tandon, we believe that academic excellence is inseparable from our commitment to creating a culture that promotes, diversity, equity, inclusion, and belongingness. Our theme today explores how cities can be designed to fully prioritize inclusivity, taking into account all household income levels, all ages from children to seniors, ethnic minorities, active and inactive individuals, and those with special accessibility needs."

Paula Glover, President and CEO of the American Association of Blacks in Energy:

Marie Curie was treated terribly in the press after her husband died and she began seeing a man who was separated from his wife. Einstein wrote her a very kind note, telling her to not take it personally. So, be an Einstein! Take care of each other.”

Ellen Hwang, Assistant Director of Strategic Initiatives for the City of Philadelphia:

You will be most successful in helping a community if you work to formulate a strategy with that community and you invest in solutions together.”

Bertha Jimenez, Tandon Alum and Co-Founder of Rise:

My best advice to the students in the room is to get out there and try. Make, do, prototype, and reiterate. My company is now keeping spent grain from breweries out of landfills by milling it into flour, but my original idea was an app ... it evolved over time from there.”

Jelena Kovačević, Dean of the NYU Tandon School of Engineering:

The concept of diversity is sometimes overused and politicized, but at its core, it is necessary. Homogenous things don’t evolve. Diverse things perform better, and that applies to schools too. School should be a place where you pursue personal goals, but also develop as a person. You will meet people who are not like you, and that’s an opportunity to learn .... But I would like to go beyond numbers. We are proud that this class is 43% female and I am the first female dean. But it isn’t enough. The entire culture has to change so that women don’t go to Silicon Valley when they graduate and leave after a few years because the atmosphere is so hostile.”

McKenzie Schwartz, National Grid Gas Utility of the Future Team Analyst:

National Grid provides energy to 20 million customers, and important to us that it be safe, affordable, reliable and environmentally responsible. By reducing system emissions and finding new fuels, we can help ensure a low-carbon future and healthier planet.”

AndréTaylor, Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

When you think about disaster and the next generation of cities, a lot of people miss the point. People say, ‘We have to rebuild, we have to put it back the way it was,’ but maybe we can do something a different way. If you have pipes going to your house a certain way, maybe those pipes can still stay. Why do you need to have drinkable water that goes to your toilet? Why not have brackish water from your rooftop or other places water your lawn? In Flint, why not run a dual system, where you run new drinkable lines, but also have parallel line where old pipes aren’t necessarily replaced, just used for non-drinking water? One of the steps to building a smart city is exposure – traveling and seeing how others do it. It changes your thinking.”

NYU Tandon Sponsors AABE’S First Hackathon

In conjunction with the Summit, NYU Tandon was the educational sponsor of the American Association of Blacks in Energy (AABE)’s first hackathon. The primary objective was to find ways of making energy more inclusive and thereby increasing the visibility of energy as an attractive industry that leverages technology and data, as well as AABE’s role in being mindful of the impact on people of color and other communities that are typically under-served.

The event brought together students, industry experts, and community members in small closely-mentored teams to uncover creative solutions to energy sector’s unique challenges in areas such as cyber-security, technological innovation, and inclusion/diversity. The purpose of this assembly was to cultivate a collaborative environment where participants from different backgrounds and competencies could learn from each other and focus on particular parts of some of these critical challenges.The participants were divided into ten teams, each with a specific mission, under the guidance and mentorship of a prominent industry professional or academic expert.

“At its core, hacking is about change. How to recognize it and how to prepare for it,” said Telisa Toliver, Vice President at Chevron and Chair of the Board of AABE. In fact, throughout the event, there was a strong emphasis on innovative design-thinking, demonstrating the need to incorporate multiple perspectives in designing solutions to these pressing real-world problems. The direction was future-looking and the mood both realistic and ambitious.

The AABE is a national energy trade association that represents all sectors of the energy industry, dedicated to addressing energy-related issues that disproportionately impact people of color, and promoting diversity and inclusion among energy companies. National Grid (presenting sponsor) and NYU Tandon (university sponsor) were proud partners of this successful event. Other companies participating in the hackathon included Google, Exelon, JP Morgan, IBM and Savant Corp., along-side various government agencies such as the DOE, New York Power Authority, US Department of Homeland Security and the NJ Transportation Planning Authority.