CU-Boulder's College of Engineering and Applied Science has long been committed to fostering a diverse learning community. Now with its Broadening Opportunity through Leadership and Diversity (BOLD) Center, the college is taking a more inclusive approach to become a leader in attracting, preparing, and expanding opportunities for students historically underrepresented in engineering.
Innovation requires bold thinking and the BOLD Center strives to create a vibrant and inclusive community of students from a wide range of backgrounds and to prepare engineers with diverse perspectives to be innovative leaders in a global society.
Associate Dean Jackie Sullivan is a driving force behind the creation of the new broader-reaching BOLD Center. "The needs of students have changed," says Sullivan. "The BOLD team is expanding our approach to inclusion. We're thinking deeply about access, retention, and performance of all our students, and focusing on measurable outcomes."
The BOLD Center's initiatives are an essential step toward reversing a downward trend in U.S. engineering graduates by taking a hard look at the way in which underrepresented students access engineering and how they learn once in it.
Sullivan and her BOLD team broadly define underrepresented students to include women, students of color, first-generation college-bound, and low-income students. Even different generations have distinctive sets of challenges and needs.
The Multicultural Engineering Program (MEP) and the Women in Engineering Program (WIEP) were established in 1973 and 1988 respectively to recruit and support diverse students. With the 2008 launching of the BOLD Center, those programs are being subsumed under the more broadly inclusive BOLD initiative to remove silos and promote an even more inclusive environment.
"When we created our multicultural and women in engineering programs, they broke barriers and definitely served the needs of students of that time," says Sullivan, "but the needs of our students have changed, and so must we. "
"Different challenges face young men and women from different backgrounds, and many of our underrepresented students fall into two or three underrepresented categories," she says. "I was a low-income, first-generation, rural female discouraged from going to college by my high school counselor. Lacking both confidence and support, I fortunately was saved from the sure destination of failing out of college first semester by a caring and attentive biology professor. The BOLD team is being assembled to provide that sort of support for all at-risk students in our engineering college. "
The BOLD Center will continue the work of MEP and WIEP, which build strong community among students who might otherwise feel isolated in a male-and majority-population dominated engineering college. "Creating community and supporting multiple pathways to success are key," says Sullivan.
Jaime Morales, a master's degree candidate in construction engineering and management, has been involved with MEP throughout his college career.
"I truly believe that if it weren't for MEP, I would have dropped out of engineering," Morales says. "MEP gave me the opportunity to feel part of a community where I could get assistance with academics and be connected with the other students in the program."
Diana Silva, who is working on her undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering, belongs to both MEP and WIEP. "Having to break through barriers when you're alone is hard," Silva says. "When you have other people around you who are supportive, then you have the confidence to get through engineering."
One activity the programs have strongly encouraged students to be involved in is outreach back to K12 students from their own communities. Not only do the college students serve as good role models for youngsters, but the work they do to engage younger students "helps knit them to the profession of engineering," thus helping the college students to see themselves as engineers, Sullivan says.
Sullivan hopes the BOLD Center will change the outlook for the future of engineering by infusing diverse new talent into engineering as students of all backgrounds feel more welcome and supported in the pursuit of their dreams. The BOLD Center intends to be a leader in creating multiple pathways to accessing an engineering future, meeting students where they are, and working with them to create a sound economic future for their families.