X marks the spot

The inaugural TANDONx event focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion in STEM

Panelists at the Fireside chat event

Dean Jelena Kovačević, Industry Assistant Professor Reginé Gilbert, graduate student Tania Nambiar Suresh, and graduate student Laneika Lyons participated in a panel discussion about challenges women face in the STEM industry

NYU Tandon’s Office of Student Life and Services has launched a variety of summits dedicated to the challenges and rewards of STEM study and work for those in underrepresented groups such as women-identified and people of color. Those events have drawn a wide variety of luminaries from across academia and the industry, who flocked to Brooklyn to participate.

This year, organizers had a different idea: an event featuring luminaries from Tandon’s own community. In early March, students packed the room adjoining the MakerSpace for the first-ever TandonX “fireside chat,” featuring Dean Jelena Kovačević, Industry Assistant Professor Reginé Gilbert, Financial Engineering master’s student Tania Nambiar Suresh, and master’s student Laneika Lyons, who is studying Management of Technology.

Alethia Orbih of the Office of Student Life & Services helped plan the event and says that TANDONx is a natural offshoot of events held in previous years. “We see this as an evolution,” she says. “As Tandon’s DEI efforts have strengthened and adapted to an ever-changing tech landscape, we felt a need to change and grow as well.”

Her colleague, Josephine Watson, concurs. “Our first TANDONx event was positioned as a fireside chat, because we wanted to stress the warmth and support we provide for our students. This is a safe place where they can discuss their vulnerabilities and challenges and learn from each other.”

Several students took the opportunity to relate their own experiences: Julie Huang, a first-year student in the Integrated Design & Media program, for example, told of getting a better grade on a high-school science project than a male classmate, only to have him blatantly accuse her of having her father’s help. Male allies like Christopher Oyuela, a Ph.D. candidate studying chemical engineering who was also in attendance, are key to making sure incidents like that never occur at NYU Tandon. “I attended a school outside of my own neighborhood, where I felt out of place and discouraged,” he recalled. “I had many mentors who supported me though, and I’m committed to paying it forward and doing the same for anyone who needs it.”

The panelists all stressed the importance of mentorship, and other takeaways from their chat included:

  • Learn to live with discomfort on occasion; uncomfortable situations can help us to grow — Dean Jelena Kovačević
  • Think of rejection as protection plus redirection; you’re being protected from taking on something not meant for you and redirected toward something better. And while it’s good to keep an eye on the future, make sure to appreciate being here now at Tandon. You accomplished getting here when others did not, so take advantage of it — Professor Reginé Gilbert
  • Sometimes out in the world it can feel like you’re not allowed to be your authentic, best self; give yourself permission! — Laneika Lyons
  • When something negative happens, ask yourself whether it will still matter in three years. If not, let it go! — Tania Nambiar Suresh

Associate Dean of Student Life & Services and Chief Inclusivity Officer Rosemary Ampuero declared the event an undeniable success. “It was wonderful to continue the ongoing conversation taking place at Tandon as we recommit to our DEI efforts and demonstrate how much we value our community.”

TRIO of diverse grad students

Diversity and Inclusion @ Tandon

TANDONx is just the latest initiative aimed at making the School of Engineering a diverse, inclusive, and equitable space.