Published: Dec. 16, 2022 By

Debbie Yeh, area director of undergraduate advising for the mechanical engineering and electrical, computer and energy engineering departments, has been awarded the 2022 chancellor’s Employee of the Year Award. The award recognizes staff members who have gone above and beyond their job description to make outstanding contributions to the CU Boulder community.

Debbie Yeh is recognized in part for her involvement in diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives across all levels of the university. She is a member of the college’s Inclusive Culture Council, the CU Boulder DEI+ Network and the Mechanical Engineering Department DEI Working Group.

Award CrewThrough her leadership work on the Student Support & Advising Services (SSAS) team, Yeh has pursued opportunities to effect positive change for her colleagues and engineering students, particularly nontraditional students.

Yeh co-founded and now chairs the Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion through Student Support (JEDISS) committee. One of the principal initiatives of JEDISS is reviewing and making recommendations to improve policies that affect undergraduate students.

“In academic advising, we often see a student’s academic career severely impacted by written policy,” said Yeh.

Every semester, the JEDISS committee takes a critical look at a different policy or process, which often involves connecting with stakeholders, reviewing literature, and benchmarking against peer institutions. The overall goal is to investigate whether the policy or process is demonstrating the College’s commitment to foster a diverse and inclusive community.

“If the answer is yes, awesome,” said Yeh. “If not, we propose changes to better align with the College’s values.”

An example is the MAPS foreign language requirement for engineering students. Until last year, engineering students were required to complete three units of foreign language, which meant either three years of high school level languages classes or three semesters of college level.

Yeh and her colleagues noticed that the MAPS foreign language requirement was disproportionately affecting nontraditional students, particularly students from rural backgrounds, students whose first language was not English and transfer students.  

They dug into the data and verified a discrepancy between different groups of students and how the MAPS language requirement was affecting them.

Yeh and her JEDISS colleagues drafted a proposal to lower the MAPS foreign language requirement to two units, as opposed to three. The college’s Undergraduate Education Council approved the change.

“While acknowledging that there is great value in the study of other languages, it is important that we consider the lived experiences of our students,” said Yeh. “Not everyone has the same equal access to foreign language education before joining our student community, which can result in inequitable experiences once the student is in our college.”

The advocacy to revamp the MAPS foreign language requirement is merely one of the ways that Yeh has driven meaningful change in the CU Engineering community.

Other examples include:

  • Organizing Mental Health First Aid Training for the SSAS team
  • Developing an inclusive hiring checklist for SSAS 
  • Creating and coordinating the ME DEI Actions Challeng
  • Organizing a workshop for teaching assistants to better identify at-risk students during the pandemi 
  • Leading efforts to direct students towards mental health and emergency financial resources during the Marshall Fire

Yeh also routinely hosts team lunches, social hours, and other community-building events to provide a sense of community and cohesion to her SSAS team.

Mechanical engineering student Dario Garcia described how Yeh helped set a flexible path for countless of students, saying, “In the fog that can be the ME degree, Debbie is the strong light that guides students, myself included, from our first day in the CU lecture hall to walking across the stage in our Graduation Regalia.”