30 for 30 Profile: University of Dayton School of Engineering Women Engineering Program
The University of Dayton School of Engineering Women Engineering Program (WEP) is committed to providing women engineering students with opportunities for networking, service and academic growth, as well as social activities to bring them and fellow students closer.
When Laura Bistrek, Executive Director of the Diversity in Engineering Center, and Beth Hart, Director of the Women in Engineering Program, came to the University of Dayton, they looked at leading organizations in the field where they could make connections. Both women have backgrounds in industry and wanted to transition to making an impact in higher education as a way to get more women into engineering, and found WEPAN to be a great source for network building and information sharing.
“Everyone is extremely willing to share best practices, and it was very educational for me. Now I’m glad to be on the other side and be able to give back.”
Today, the School is a Women in Engineering Proactive Network (WEPAN) 30 for 30 Institutional Champion. “It’s very valuable for us to be able to reach out and talk to people, both to learn what others are doing and to get feedback and different perspectives on our programming and strategies,” says Hart.
The University of Dayton first hosted a Women in Engineering summer camp for high school students in 1974, and Bistrek, who attended the camp herself while in high school, is proud to carry on and continue the legacy. Under Bistrek and Hart’s guidance, WEP has grown in a number of different ways. They’ve developed more programming and connected students with opportunities across campus and across networks, tapping into research experiences for undergraduates and industry partners, who have either helped financially support students or have come to campus to lead professional development training.
The Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Integrated Learning-Living Community, run in partnership with the College of Arts and Sciences, is designed to help first-year students get a solid start in STEM fields and create a network of support among their peers, upperclass students, faculty, and staff. There is also a mentoring program between upperclass students and first-year students, which is not only highly popular, with mentees often returning as mentors later in their academic careers, but was a success story through the pandemic, as the Center was able to pivot through Zoom and outdoor meetings to still create meaningful opportunities for first-year students to connect to each other and to others in their field.
WEP is housed within the Diversity in Engineering Center, which also houses other areas like the Multi-Ethnic Engineers Program (MEP) and International Engineering Student Engagement. While the WEP and MEP programs have existed for many years, the Diversity in Engineering Center has been in existence for about five years and has become involved in institution-wide discussions about ways and actions to improve inclusive excellence. For example, all engineering recruiting initiatives are run by the Center and looked at through a lens of diversity and inclusivity.
Programs like WEP are crucial, according to Bistrek, because, despite the progress that has been made thus far in creating inclusive cultures and representative workforces for women in engineering, there’s still much more to be done. “It’s the responsibility of these types of programs to continue to move the needle. For the collective good of engineering, it takes everyone being involved.”
When it comes to creating and expanding women in engineering programs, Bistrek believes it’s important to make sure there are many voices at the table. “Keep intersectionality in mind and make sure you’re educating yourself on all experiences and identities women have, in order to ensure you’re bringing all women forward,” she says.
Hart agrees. “Use existing networks to make those connections, and don’t be afraid to reach out and talk to other people, programs, and schools,” she adds. “We get a lot of great advice, and it always reminds us of what we already know and what we can still learn.”