Credit: Virginia Tech’s Niki Hazuda.
At the intersection of change, impact, diversity, equity, and inclusion, stands an assistant professor from the Department of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech: Jeremi London. With her recent National Science Foundation CAREER grant, London is poised to tackle one of today’s most pressing questions for engineering: Who gets to be an engineer?
“One of my favorite professors at Purdue always said research is autobiographical,” said London, who was named a 2021 Outstanding New Assistant Professor.
“There’s a reason why I, with my unique combination of background and interests, am fascinated by this problem,” she said. “And I’m inspired by the late Congressman John Lewis, always wondering what kind of ‘good trouble’ can I get into?”
London’s focus for the CAREER grant is creating a comprehensive change model for broadening participation and reshaping how engineering colleges approach diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. She hopes to replace periodic gains with long-term, systemic change.
To these ends, London will design a unique document outlining the model in an “ultra” practical and accessible format, she said.
“I literally see the Impact Toolkit as a playbook, but in a way that can be the form of reflective exercises, issues to consider, policies to revamp, and more,” London said. “I want it to showcase how to use the concrete insights I learn from the case studies of the exemplars. Each case study will be centered on the best practices associated with five areas within any college of engineering: admissions, financial aid, curriculum, student and faculty interactions, and campus experiences.”
Utilizing data collected by the American Society for Engineering Education, London identified universities that consistently awarded engineering bachelor’s degrees to the most Black and brown engineers over the past three years.
For her CAREER study, she’ll look at Florida International University, Morgan State University, University of Central Florida, University of Maryland-Baltimore County, and University of Maryland-College Park.
“I’m excited and encouraged to see a variety of institutions, because I don’t want to say everyone needs to go to a Hispanic-serving institution, or a historical Black college or university,” she said. “I want to make sure, regardless of what you’re interested in, it’s possible for you to access an engineering education and to excel well while you’re there.”
The minimum requirement to become an engineer is an undergraduate degree, and according to London, that’s the key to diversifying the engineering workforce. Despite making up 13 percent of the United States population, less than 5 percent of engineers are Black or African American.
Changing policies, revisiting financial aid approaches, and examining priorities are all practical changes London believes will ensure the next generation of engineering educators can disrupt the status quo to achieve parity. She’s partnered with Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering and College of Science to implement her grant findings and anticipates building more partnerships over the next five years.
“Jeremi is an exceptionally committed and talented scholar, who brings a breadth of experience and perspective to her work,” said Jenni Case, head of the Department of Engineering Education. “She also already has a strong national profile for her research on impact. Of particular significance is that Jeremi will be kicking off her CAREER proposal in the same year that she takes on the leadership for the ASEE Year of Impact on Racial Equity. This is an opportunity for an incredible blend of research and practice, and Jeremi is really well placed to do this.”
As a Black woman engineer, London sees striving to diversify engineering in the face of centuries of systemic racism as more than a personal responsibility.
“I not only feel a sense of duty and obligation, but I also feel a sense of agency,” London said. “Part of that agency comes from the long, rich heritage of the amazing things Black, African Americans and brown people have done. Those are the people that remind me that by my choice, I too, can influence the story others tell about me – and I hope to always tell a story of impact.”