WEPAN 30 for 30: University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Engineering
When Pérez began his tenure as dean five years ago, all of the college’s department chairs were men. Today, 50% are women. Additionally, Pérez is overseeing a $200 million facilities investment, including a new state-of-the-art engineering building, and hired 70 new faculty members, including higher percentages of women.
Pérez, whose interest in engineering began in childhood with a mechanic father and a fascination with the NASA space program, went into higher education because he loved teaching and research. As an administrator, he hopes to have an even wider reach. “I think good administrators first have to be good faculty, because it’s important to have a value for teaching and outreach,” he says.
“As a faculty member, I can help the students in my classroom, but as dean, I’m hopefully creating programs and effecting change that will help the college’s students and faculty as a whole.”
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) College of Engineering, the only engineering college in Nebraska, has a unique role as the singular intellectual and cultural resource for engineering instruction, research, and outreach in the state. Helmed by Lance C. Pérez, Dean and Omar H. Heins Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, the college is a Women in Engineering Proactive Network (WEPAN) 30 for 30 Institutional Champion. During a recent extensive strategic planning process, increasing the number of women in the college across all ranks (faculty, staff, students) was highlighted as a priority.
“We were looking for partners to help us reach that goal, and WEPAN was a natural fit,” says Pérez. “The body of knowledge we can access through WEPAN’s research projects and webinars allows us to educate ourselves about increasing diversity in the college, and there is a great network of colleagues we can approach to ask questions.”
The college framed its recent strategic planning goals around the ideas of growth and reputation, in areas such as student enrollment, faculty expenditures, and diversity. The fastest growing demographic in Nebraska is its Latinx population, and the college is embracing that shift and making changes to reach its goal of 35% women enrolled in undergraduate programs. “We’re not going to see the growth in enrollment we want if we recruit the same students we always have, and it’s clear that diversity is the only way we’re going to get there,” says Pérez.
The college has programs in place to help achieve its goals, such as the Women in Engineering Program, a cohort-based program designed to engage and enhance the experiences of talented scholars who demonstrate experience with, or commitment to, the recruitment and advancement of women in engineering, and the Multicultural Engineering Program, a cohort-based program designed to engage and enhance the experiences of talented scholars who demonstrate experience with, or commitment to, leadership and diversity. The programs provide professional development, an encouraging academic environment, a dedicated support system, and a sense of community for participants. Additionally, a new scholarship program is being launched, which aims to increase the number of women at the school by covering the complete cost of attendance and room/board/book stipends for students from the state.