College hosts third annual Diverse Engineering Professionals Conference

October 31, 2019

Engineering Diversity Collaborative

Tojan Rahhal (left), Assistant Dean for Inclusive Excellence and Strategic Initiatives, poses with members of the Engineering Diversity Collaborative Evonne Weeden, Brooke Flynn, Kate Clemens, Victoria Sanchez, Jacqueline Miller, Andrew Guardia and Samantha Sample, along with Hilary Mueller, Director of the Office Diversity and Outreach Initiatives, during a break at the Diverse Engineering Professionals Conference last fall.

The Diverse Engineering Professionals Conference, or DEPC, is the only of its kind in the nation, making the College of Engineering a key leader in diversity and inclusion initiatives across college campuses.

The conference, held Saturday, Oct. 26, is an inclusive space for engineering students of all backgrounds to develop themselves professionally as well as interact with employers who value diversity.

The conference originated at the College with the student group Engineering Diversity Collaborative in partnership with the Office of Diversity and Outreach Initiatives. These students wanted to take the experience of their larger national conferences and bring it right here to MU.

Filled with workshops, presentations, and networking opportunities, DEPC’s goal is to empower students traditionally underrepresented in STEM and help educate students interested in learning more about diversity in engineering.

Hilary Mueller, the director of Diversity and Outreach Initiatives, wants the conference’s core values to resonate with students, so they can become better engineers.

“I really want the message that these concepts are important, that we all benefit from a more diverse and inclusive space, to hit home with our students,” she said. “I want them to feel empowered, to feel motivated to be able to go out into the field of engineering and make the change that they want to see.”

Attendees jump-started the day in workshops covering topics like resilience, interviewing skills and being a global citizen. They then spent lunch being inspired by Dean Elizabeth Loboa and keynote speaker Alejandro Cornejo who focuses on leadership development at Emerson.

Gwen Mizell

Gwen Mizell, vice president of sustainability and electrification at Ameren Corporation, gives a presentation in Ketcham Auditorium during the Diverse Engineering Professional Conference. She previously served as senior director of corporate social responsibility and joined Ameren in 2015 as director of diversity and inclusion.

Dean Loboa shared how she is the College’s first female dean and only one of about 80 female engineering deans nationwide— a number that she says appears large until it’s compared to the thousands of engineering schools across the United States.

Diversity is critical, according to Dean Loboa, to tackling today’s and tomorrow’s problems.

“To solve the kinds of global challenges that lay before us as engineers, we must be equipped with the skills to work collaboratively with people from all backgrounds and to embrace diverse perspectives,” she said. “The more diverse the viewpoints and input, the more likely a team is to come up with the kind of creative, cutting edge ideas to solve seemingly impossible problems and make our community, our nation, our world a better place.”

Rounding off the conference, students interacted with companies at a small-scale career fair where they could more intimately network with recruiters.

Evonne Weeden, the vice president of the National Society of Black Engineers, hoped students left DEPC feeling more prepared in pursuing their professional goals.

“I hope that they’re able to get that experience of being more comfortable talking to employers and being more confident in spaces such as career fairs or conferences such as this one,” she said. “That’s what it’s all about— putting yourself out there and just being more comfortable in that space.”

The conference isn’t notable simply for being the first of its kind; it’s work has real and lasting impacts on students.

For this, DEPC has been awarded a special recognition by the MU Engagement Council.

The conference continues to grow with this year having 165 attendees register— a significant increase from the first year’s 70. And over its three years, involvement with organizing DEPC has expanded too.

Dr. Tojan B. Rahhal, who is an adjunct professor in the Biomedical, Biological and Chemical Engineering Department as well as the assistant dean for Inclusive Excellence and Strategic Initiatives, says she’s particularly proud of DEPC’s growth and how it brings students together.

“The beauty of this conference is after the first year, we had students who did not take part say, ‘How can we help for next year?’ They wanted to be allies,” she said. “So, for those who want to know more about what their peers go through, and support one another, they can take part in these diversity education sessions. Simultaneously, they can form these new bonds and make new friends intentionally.”