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The 2020 Diversity in STEM Summit was a resounding success

The first to be held entirely virtually

6th Annual Diversity in STEM Summit, multicolor hands coming together

What do a solar energy CEO, the winner of an American Association for the Advancement of Science fellowship, and the leader of the Women in Infrastructure and Real Estate initiative have in common? How about an expert on the topic of algorithmic bias, the author of a book about global antimicrobial resistance, and the executive director of the National Society of Black Engineers? 

They and others were all featured guests at NYU Tandon’s 2020 Diversity in STEM Summit, which was held virtually December 2–3 and took as its theme Inclusive Innovation. Associate Dean of Student Affairs Anita Farrington, who spearheaded the annual event back in 2015, explained that inclusive innovation is an especially important concept if we hope to improve access to STEM education and opportunities for fulfilling careers in fields related to science, technology, and engineering. This was the first of the Summits to occur in a completely virtual format; Randi Amalfitano, who organized the event, says that the change to virtual helped us bring together an even more diverse and inclusive array of speakers who truly embodied our themes and the importance of a diverse workforce, especially in the 2020 landscape.

NYU Tandon Dean Jelena Kovačević asserted that the chosen theme perfectly captured what makes the school so special. “As an engineering school, we are in the rare position of being able to not only provide an education to our students — regardless of where they come from, their ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or socioeconomic background — but to also use our research prowess to actually create opportunity for all people,” she said as she opened the Summit.

Developing technology that contributes to society in some way has always been a major part of our ethos, and among the biggest contributions we are now making is to create systems and devices that open doors for all and promote access to healthcare, employment, transportation, and so much more. In other words, we want to engineer opportunity in every possible way.” — Jelena Kovačević

What followed was a high-wattage succession of speakers who described their own innovative work, the importance of widening the STEM pipeline, and the benefits of working in diverse, vibrant environments, where people from different backgrounds collaborate. 

Inclusion Innovators to Watch: Changing the Mindset 

Speakers incldued:

  • Kristal Hansley, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of WeSolar, a company dedicated to bringing affordable and accessible solar energy to under-resourced communities that have historically faced environmental injustices
  • John Mandyck, the CEO of the Urban Green Council, whose mission is to transform buildings for a sustainable future in New York City and around the world
  • Jin Kim Montclare, NYU Tandon Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering ,who performs groundbreaking research in protein engineering and heads the school’s Science Outreach and Research (SOAR) Program, aimed at getting high school students in Brooklyn excited about chemistry 
  • Julia Stoyanovich, NYU Tandon Assistant Professor of Computer Science and Engineering , the founding director of the Center for Responsible AI @ NYU, which is developing vital tools for responsible AI, equitable data-sharing, increased transparency, and more
  • Muhammad Hamid Zaman, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Boston University and the author of the recent book Biography of Resistance, which looks to history, culture, attitudes, our own individual choices, and collective human behavior in creating one of the biggest public health challenges of our time

After that wide-ranging session, the day culminated with an industry-specific panel that examined why collaborative relationships between engineers and architects are so critical and how diverse teams of architects and engineers have transformed and revitalized communities. Panelists included Christine P. Davie (Tandon BS ‘14), Deloitte senior consultant and co-leader of the Women in Infrastructure and Real Estate initiative; Kimberly Dowdell, president of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) and Principal in the Chicago studio of design firm, HOK; and John Rice, president and principal of Legacy Engineers.

The second day of the Summit focused on the long view: the future of STEM, from K-12 through doctoral programs. Panelists from academia and industry discussed their ideas for supporting the STEM pipeline of women and underrepresented students — and how they were putting those ideas into action.  

Putting Intention into Action: Building a Diverse STEM Pipeline

Speakers included:

  • Lisa M. Coleman, NYU’s inaugural Senior VP for Global Inclusion and Strategic Innovation and the University’s Chief Diversity Officer
  • Karl W. Reid, Executive Director of the National Society of Black Engineers
  • Terrence Buck, the Idaho National Laboratory’s Talent Acquisition Manager
  • Barbara Harrison, the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Business Partner of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory
  • Jahi Simbai, the senior manager of Strategic Workforce Planning & Development at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory

By the end of the Summit, speakers had touched upon several overarching and vital questions:  How can we build technology that mirrors the people and societies for whom it’s built? How can researchers rethink traditional STEM approaches to both bring more people to the table and focus on disparities in marginalized communities? How do we ensure that diverse learners become interested in STEM and how can we remove barriers from the STEM career pipeline?

While those aren’t questions with simple answers, every speaker is doing their part to address the issues, implement solutions, and transform STEM.  

Anita Farrington dedicated the final event to Dr. Irving McPhail, former CEO of NACME and most recently, President of St. Augustine University, whose life work centered around racial equity especially as it related to the STEM pipeline. He also received an honorary doctorate from Tandon in 2010. 

She closed the program noting that his work will be an inspiration to her as she begins a new chapter, retiring at the end of the year and launching her company STEM Impact, which will be dedicated to increasing STEM education and career awareness for underrepresented minority students and females. "The event was a perfect career ending and beginning for me," she concluded.