In her three years as an engineering student, Lauren Wonicker-Cook barely had female professors.
Now that UF has joined a national alliance to increase STEM faculty diversity, the 21-year-old UF electrical engineering junior, said she hopes that will change.
UF is joining 19 other universities this year in an alliance to increase diversity in STEM faculty. “Aspire: The National Alliance for Inclusive & Diverse STEM Faculty” is led by the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities (APLU) and the Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning.
Cook, the recording secretary of the UF Society of Women Engineers, said the effort shows UF is aware students need diverse role models.
“When I have a female professor, it’s encouraging and inspiring,” Wonicker-Cook said.
Travis York, APLU assistant vice president of academic and student affairs, said the alliance is taking national, regional and institutional change initiatives. The network of universities in the alliance is called IChange. Now, a total of 35 institutions are involved, York said.
Institutions apply to be in the IChange Network, and they are chosen based on their commitment to the goals, York said.
UF was ranked No. 1 by the American Society of Engineering Education for having the most African-American female tenured or tenure-track faculty this month in its engineering department. However, the 2018 University of Southern California Race and Equity Center report gave UF an F for racial representation, the lowest grade in the racial representation category.
Institutions commit to at least three years in the alliance and conduct a self-assessment to identify their strengths and where they need to grow. The alliance will develop an action plan with UF based on the self-assessment to carry out in the remaining two years.
The Aspire Alliance will provide resources and training, funded by the National Science Foundation which has a current investment of $10 million over a time period of five years, York said.
“It’s really hard to be what you can’t see,” York said. “It’s helpful for students to have role models in those spaces.”