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UC engineering office receives equity ambassador award

UC Equity and Inclusion honors Inclusive Excellence and Community Engagement for community impact

The Office of Inclusive Excellence and Community Engagement in the University of Cincinnati's College of Engineering and Applied Science received a 2020 Marian Spencer Equity Ambassador Award.

The awards showcase campus community members whose efforts related to diversity, equity, and inclusion have had a positive impact on the university – advancing belonging, agency, cultural competence and accountability within and across the campus community.

Members of the office shared their thoughts about the recent honor.

We have a wonderful opportunity to support these scholars at a very important time in their lives.

Ashantia Collins, Program Coordinator, Summer Bridge program and special events

“This is not just an office, but a group of individuals whose goal is to transform higher education by providing access, educational opportunities and professional development to all within the college and the community,” says Krizia Cabrera-Toro, program coordinator for Women in Engineering.

Cabrera-Toro says the team wants to create positive change by empowering students to excel through inclusive programming, breaking down barriers by engaging faculty and staff, and continuing to offer creative programming to the community.

Most recently, the team has been tackling challenges presented by the COVID-19 health guidelines, inventing creative conversions to online programming.

a composite image of eight headshots of staff members

The Office of Inclusive Excellence and Community Engagement team coordinates dozens of programs on campus and in the community. Photo/UC creative. Graphic/Patty Lloyd, CEAS Marketing.

Ashantia Collins, program coordinator for the Summer Bridge Program and special events, is proud of the work the team has done to transition the program to accommodate the current climate. 

The Summer STEM Bridge Program, established 30 years ago, has traditionally been a seven-week residential program for first-year students. This year, the team is delivering the material entirely online. 

“The Summer STEM Bridge Program has a long history of supporting incoming students and we have continued that this year,” Collins says. “We have a wonderful opportunity to support these scholars at a very important time in their life.” 

Despite the difference in delivery, Collins says she can already see the progress students are making in the second week of the program which focuses on preparing for math, science, physics and engineering courses. 

Community...helps our underrepresented students understand that they have someone to lean on, someone to talk to, and someone who cares about their academic success.

CJ Witherspoon, Assistant Director, Retention and Strategic Initiatives

C.J. Witherspoon, assistant director, Retention & Strategic Initiatives, distinctly remembers the people she met a similar pre-college program when she was a first-year student at Miami University, thankful for the relationships and community she built with fellow students, faculty and administrators, some of whom she still connects with. 

“Community is what helps our underrepresented students understand that they have someone to lean on, someone to talk to, and someone who cares about their academic success,” said Witherspoon. “I’m proud to work in this office. I’m able to pay it forward to students who will have a similar entry to college like I did so many years ago. It is important to build meaningful relationships with students as they begin their academic careers at UC.” 

“I am very proud of the work we do. We create safe spaces for minoritized and marginalized populations. We truly understand the challenges and hills they overcome,” says Whitney Gaskins, Ph.D., assistant dean, Inclusive Excellence and Community Engagement. 

The team also engages Cincinnati youth and families in STEM activities and establishes partnerships and pathways with local schools. Their goal is to help local students become familiar with STEM, excited about engineering and science, and prepared for their future education.

The team continues to expand its programming. This summer, it will host the first Women of Color Summer Engineering Camp for rising students in grades 9 to 12. The camp’s theme is "Discover the Possibilities ... Become an Engineer.”

“The office is creatively exposing women and minorities to the possibilities of studying engineering at the University of Cincinnati and to the variety of careers in engineering,” says Paula Lampley, J.D., director of Women in Engineering. 

By coordinating activities on campus and in the community to encourage STEM interest, the team excels at demystifying what it takes for aspiring students to become an engineer.

“The office’s community engagement programs provide exposure and the opportunity to engineer solutions to challenges,” says Don Wittrock, program coordinator for Community Engagement. “Through competitions, lab visits, family programming, and a range of K-12 programming, we are inspiring the next wave of diverse Bearcat engineers.”

“It’s wonderful to be recognized for our contribution to the UC community,” Gaskins says.

Learn more about the office on the Inclusive Excellence and Community Engagement website.

Featured image at top: The Engineering Research center. Photo/John Martini, UC P+D+C.