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In Second Annual BRIDGE Week, Harvard SEAS Celebrates Diversity in STEM

SEAS Sign
The John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences sign stands in front of Pierce Hall.

The School of Engineering and Applied Sciences hosted its second annual “Building Relationships, Increasing Diversity, and Growing Engineers” Week this past week, bringing together students, faculty, staff, and administrators for a series of events highlighting diversity issues in STEM.

BRIDGE Week originated after leaders of three student organizations at SEAS — the Society of Women Engineers, the National Society of Black Engineers, and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers — collaborated to celebrate a SEAS alumnus who had contributed to engineering and advanced diversity in STEM, according to SEAS Director of Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging Alexis J. Stokes.

“They decided to do a number of events that celebrated diversity but was also about expanding our knowledge of the best practices of creating this diverse, inclusive, and welcoming environment,” Stokes said.

Sayo R. Eweje ’19, who helped organize the inaugural BRIDGE Week last year as president of Harvard’s chapter of NSBE, said he hoped the event would provide a space for people with diverse backgrounds to come together and discuss approaches to address ongoing diversity issues in STEM.

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This year’s BRIDGE Week programming included a summit on gender equity in STEM and an “Out in STEM” panel discussion featuring BGLTQ faculty, researchers, and industry professionals. Guest speakers included Computer Science Professor Edward W. Kohler; President Emeritus of NSBE Boston Chiderah Okoye Nordee; and Nigel Jacob, the co-founder of a civic innovation incubator.

SEAS alumna Michi E. Garrison ’83 received the Harvard SEAS Distinguished Engineer Award at the BRIDGE Banquet held in the Faculty Club Wednesday. In her acceptance speech, she shared her experiences working in the medical device industry after graduating with a degree in Biomechanical Engineering.

Garrison said she thinks gender and racial disparities in engineering stem from an “inherent bias many people have about women and minorities, especially in the technical field.” She urged students to develop professional networks and form personal connections in order to open the door to new opportunities, regardless of the particular career path they chose to pursue.

Andrea S. Rodriguez-Marin Freudmann ’20, president of the Society of Women Engineers, said she thinks it is important for the awardee to be a Harvard graduate.

“If it’s a big struggle for you and you don’t have anybody you feel like you can rely on and you don’t feel like you’re included in the community, then you might be inclined to leave,” she said. “We’re there to try and fix that problem and I think that we thought that showcasing someone who made it — you know, providing role models essentially — would be a great way to encourage people to stick with it.”

Thursday’s BRIDGE Week event showcased a panel discussion on promoting diversity in STEM industry spaces. This event was a part of the “I’ll Make Me a World” speaker series, developed last summer by Electrical Engineering student Winston E. Michalak ’21 in collaboration with History of Science Department Chair Evelynn M. Hammonds.

The panel featured Lydia Villa-Komaroff, founder and principal of consulting firm Intersections SBD; Rubén Lozano-Aguilera, a product manager at Google; Kenneth Armstead, co-founder and principal of BHC Macro Investment Management, LLC; and Anastacia Awad, the associate director and head of emerging talent and leadership at Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research

“The aim of the speaker series is to celebrate the diversity that already exists in STEM by highlighting the accomplishments of the incredible panelists that we’ve invited tonight and the incredible individuals that we’ll invite in the future and that we have invited in the past,” Michalak said.

The conversation, which Hammonds moderated, began with brief remarks from each of the panelists and questions from the moderator, before transitioning into a dialogue between audience members and the panelists.

“For me, STEM and science and technology are about solving problems, but we need to be able to identify what the problems are,” Lozano-Aguilera said. “If we can’t identify those problems, we can’t solve them, and that’s where having a diverse workforce will be able to rectify those problems.”

Several people at the event discussed ways to increase support for diversity-related initiatives in STEM.

“I think what we haven’t done is scale the things that we know work and provide support for people and keep a lot of knowledge out there about what these things do. I think that’s the problem we’ve gotta solve at some point,” Hammonds said.

Michalak said he hopes to broaden the range of panelists invited to speak at future lecture series in order to demonstrate to students, faculty, administration, and staff that “there are people, all sorts of people, working in all sorts of field in STEM.”

“If you are a student or if you are anyone at the College or anyone anywhere, no matter what you look like, no matter where you come from, there is someone like you working in a STEM-related field,” he said.

—Staff writer Ruth A. Hailu can be reached at ruth.hailu@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @ruth_hailu_

—Staff writer Amy L. Jia can be reached at amy.jia@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @AmyLJia.

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