Denise Simmons sees herself reflected in her students, and she hopes her students feel the same.
The African American civil and coastal engineering associate professor understood the importance of representation when approached by a black female engineering freshman, who told Simmons she appreciated her presence at a meeting they both attended.
“Without me needing to ask her any other questions, I knew immediately what she meant,” Simmons said.
UF ranked first in the U.S. in employing African American female faculty members in tenure or tenure-track positions in engineering, according to the American Society for Engineering Education, a nonprofit dedicated to engineering education. This was out of 338 four-year degree-granting engineering schools.
The society ranked UF above two historically black universities in a report published in its October Prism magazine issue. UF has seven female African American faculty members in engineering, Morgan State University ranked second with six faculty members and Howard University in third with five.
“I sense UF cares about who we are and the sustaining of us as professionals and looks at us more than just a commodity to show off,” Simmons said.
Lakiesha Williams, a biomedical engineering associate professor, said UF’s Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering is welcoming, and the university works toward making its staff as diverse as Florida’s population.
“Representation is critical, and it's important for students to see people who look like themselves in the classroom and outside of the classroom," Williams said.
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. The center measured racial equity by comparing black undergraduate enrollment to the black Florida resident population in the 18- to 24-year-old age group.
The UF math department employs one African American professor, who is a woman, as of February.
According to UF’s enrollment website, the Fall 2018 UF Student Body was:
- 52.34 percent white
- 19.11 percent Hispanic/ Latinx
- 7.51 percent Asian
- 6.01 percent black/ African American
- 0.34 percent Native Hawaiian/ Pacific Islander
- 0.22 percent American Indian/ Alaska Native
Juan Gilbert, computer and information science and engineering department chair, said UF should be praised. Gilbert said outpacing two historically black universities challenges other schools nationwide to meet new diversity expectations.
“Many colleges of engineering would say, ‘Well, we would never be number one for African American female tenure track faculty. The HBCUs will always beat us,’” Gilbert said. “They can't say that now.”
Antonio Farias, UF chief diversity officer, wrote in an email that diversity is important to retaining students and faculty.
“Students come to UF expecting to experience the diversity and sense of belonging of their neighborhoods,” he wrote. “When students feel like they belong, it removes barriers to experiencing the full power of the Gator Nation.”
Correction: This article was updated to reflect the Fall 2018 student demographic data. The Alligator previously reported data from 2006 to 2018.