By Deanna Howes Spiro, Vice President of Communications, AJCU
What’s happening in engineering programs at Jesuit colleges and universities these days? From biomedical engineering research on skeletal muscle regeneration, to human-centered engineering integrated into a liberal arts curriculum, it’s an exciting time on our campuses.
Our future engineers are already applying what they’re learning inside of their classrooms to outside their doors and into their communities—in some cases, across the world! In this issue of Connections, you’ll learn about the University of Detroit Mercy’s partnership between its College of Engineering and Detroit Public Schools, Seattle University’s global humanitarian programs in Tanzania, Peru and Thailand, and much more.
We celebrate Earth Day this Friday by highlighting these schools and sharing the many ways their students are building a more sustainable world every day.
Engineering a Better World at Boston College
By Phil Gloudemans, Associate Director of the Office of University Communications, Boston College
Last fall, Boston College (BC) welcomed engineering students among its incoming freshman class for the first time in its 158-year history—the culmination of a strategic initiative to launch an engineering department in the Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences that will offer a Bachelor of science degree in Human-Centered Engineering (HCE).
The future engineers are an impressive group of 28 students from 19 states who chose to be a part of BC’s inaugural engineering class because of its human-centered engineering focus, which prepares students to solve complex problems that address critical human needs.
The new major will integrate BC’s core liberal arts focus with a rigorous engineering curriculum that will emphasize experiential learning and application-based course offerings, providing students opportunities to work in collaborative teams and across disciplines to address pressing issues in the areas of the environment, health, and energy.
Within the inaugural class, 40 percent of the enrolled engineering students are male and 60 percent are female. Five are recipients of Gabelli Scholarships, an undergraduate academic merit program that annually bestows full-tuition awards to eighteen incoming BC freshmen. The average SAT scores of the engineering cohort is 1505; the average ACT score is 35. A total of 31 percent is of African, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American descent, and/or from other countries.
“Our inaugural class of human-centered engineers are academically impressive, co-curricularly multifaceted, scientifically curious, and eager to use their BC engineering degrees to positively impact the human condition,” said Grant Gosselin, BC’s director of Undergraduate Admission. “We look forward to watching all they will accomplish during the next four years and beyond.”
Glenn Gaudette, a biomedical engineer who pioneered the use of plants as scaffolding for heart regeneration, was named the inaugural chair of BC’s new Engineering Department in November 2020; he assumed the post on January 1, 2021.
“I’m very excited about this program because it truly brings the human being into engineering,” said Gaudette, who had (since 2004) been the William Smith Dean’s Professor of Biomedical Engineering and the executive director of the Value Creation Initiative at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. “When we’re envisioning the future of engineering education, we need to think about more than just the technical; we also need to think about the mindset. We want our students to consider humans as they develop new technologies, and to identify what the real problems are, and how can we use engineering to make the world a better place. That’s what we’re focused on.”
Kiana Ramos, a freshman from Springfield, MA, was motivated by problem-solving to apply to BC and its Engineering program.
“I got into engineering in a unique way,” she said. “In 2019, my family and I went to go visit my extended family in Puerto Rico and [over the course of] four or five days, we lost power every day. Climate change and Hurricane Maria [a deadly Category 5 hurricane that devastated the northeastern Caribbean in September 2017] have left the infrastructure in Puerto Rico brutalized, and it was horrific to see how bad it still was two years later. So, when I finally sat there and thought about it, I wanted to help my family and others around the world because I cannot imagine living like that every day. That’s why I want to be an engineer: because I really saw engineers as people who could help fix climate change, and who could help so many people.”
Serial entrepreneur Matthew Fonte, a 1994 graduate of BC’s Carroll School of Management, believes that learning the fundamentals of engineering, whether it’s electrical, mechanical or civil, are valuable, but there isn’t a call to action to use the degree to better society.
“That’s the pillar of BC’s Human-Centered Engineering Program,” said Fonte, founder and president of ColdSnap, a Billerica, MA-based manufacturer of rapid freezing appliances. “I think it has the `bones’ of a world-class program.”
The HCE program is housed within a new, 150,000-square-foot facility that opened in January 2022: a $150-million building that represents the largest single investment in the sciences at Boston College, and serves as the focal point of a $300 million University science initiative. The new structure also hosts the Schiller Institute for Integrated Science and Society, the Computer Science Department, and the Shea Center, as well as classrooms.
“The transparency of the new building is important to the type of education we’re delivering because we want our students to see that there are no boundaries between engineering and liberal arts, business and economics, social work, and nursing,” said Gaudette. “HCE provides endless opportunities for collaboration between our students and students from across campus. We need them to come together because that’s what we’re trying to do with this engineering program. We need to integrate science and technology to address society’s needs.”
David Quigley, BC provost and dean of faculties, captured the University’s rationale for HCE in a single sentence: “The launch of an undergraduate Engineering degree promises to position Boston College and our graduates to help lead the way on ethical, human-centered explorations of the possibilities and perils of technology in the 21st century.”
Le Moyne Mentoring Program Empowers Women in STEM
By Molly McCarthy, Office of Communications, Le Moyne College
When Jesenya Olivas ’23 arrived at Le Moyne College in Fall 2019, one of the first things she did was to join Stempower: an innovative mentorship and career preparation program for women interested in working in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
Olivas was a biology major but, like many first-year students, she was open-minded and eager to explore the opportunities that were available to her in a variety of fields. She had a lot of questions, such as: What does it take to build a robust professional network? Where should she go to gain real-world experience as an undergraduate? And how could she effectively advocate for herself in future salary negotiations? Through her work with Stempower, Olivas began charting a new professional course for herself as a cybersecurity major.
Founded by Terri Mitchell, a 1985 Le Moyne graduate, and Meredith Tornabene, Director of the Office of Career Advising and Development, Stempower helps women who are studying these critical fields build a sense of community, grow more self-confident, and cultivate meaningful and rewarding careers.
For Mitchell, the enterprise is a deeply personal one. She spent three decades working in information technology before retiring as vice president of Watson Health Integration at IBM. Her own professional experience taught her that diverse teams arrive at better decisions than homogeneous ones—they tend to focus more on facts, to process those facts more carefully, and to be more creative in their thinking. Yet, according to recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau, just 27 percent of people working in STEM are women, a statistic that could impact the nation’s capacity to innovate and compete.
Stempower seeks to bridge this gap. At the center of the program is a dynamic peer-to-peer mentorship model in which third- and fourth-year women STEM students serve as guides to those in their first or second year of study. The older students provide the younger ones with advice, encouragement and feedback and, by extension, create a sense of community that is essential in retaining today’s students, who will become tomorrow’s engineers, doctors and data analysts.
Since Stempower’s founding during the 2019-20 academic year, 87 mentors and 101 mentees have gone through the program. Both receive guidance about how to navigate and make the most of their relationships and build trust with one another. Olivas, who was paired with fellow cybersecurity major Alexis Ess ’22, says that what she appreciates most is that Ess is “always there if I ever need help with anything,” whether that is navigating classwork or college life in general. For her part, Ess says that Stempower has helped her to better understand the professional world, from networking to résumé writing to preparing for an interview.
In just three years, the program is already proving to be a success. Several Stempower participants have completed valuable internships at such companies and organizations as the financial services company Equitable, technology giant IBM, insurance firm MetLife, and North Carolina-based civil engineering firm McAdams. Others have taken part in the Clare Booth Luce Research Scholars Program, which provides them with further research, networking and professional-development opportunities. And some have gone on to pursue graduate work at institutions like Colorado State University, Syracuse University and Tufts University. Beyond these achievements, Stempower is also attracting the attention of prospective employers, including California-based cybersecurity company Palo Alto Networks, which recently held a Zoom meeting with several of its leaders and Stempower participants to speak informally and exchange ideas.
The secret of that success is not complicated, according to Mitchell.
“Skills plus confidence equals power. It’s as simple as that,” she says, “Yes, we are nurturing the next generation of scientists, engineers and mathematicians, but Stempower isn’t about imparting these students with technical skills or teaching them complex scientific formulas. They already focus on those things in Le Moyne’s classrooms. It’s about inspiring them to look to the future with boldness and confidence, and to apply that mindset to whatever they do.”
For her part, Olivas says that Stempower has provided her with a wonderful set of skills to take into her professional career, and introduced her to a community of like-minded women, both of which boost her optimism about the future. She is looking forward to a career at a cybersecurity company or a security operations center, detecting and monitoring incidents.
“Since joining the program, I’ve discovered that it’s a safe place for women in STEM to gather to talk about the professional worlds and lives after undergrad,” she says. “The other people in the program are experiencing some of the same things that I am, so they get it. It’s wonderful being part of a group of women who can always count on each other.”
Saint Louis Video Research Series Highlights Biomedical Engineering
Last fall, Saint Louis University (SLU) launched ‘Meet the Researcher’: a video series on YouTube featuring interviews with SLU faculty engaged in research. Koyal Garg, Ph.D. is an associate professor of biomedical engineering at SLU, who discussed her research on the enhancement of skeletal muscle regeneration and function following injury, disease, and aging. The following excerpts from her interview (shown left) are republished here with permission from Saint Louis University and were originally published in September at slu.edu.
Background “My first postdoctoral training was at the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research. There, I was exposed to what war can do to our military veterans. That was really inspiring because I could see through my research that I could make a real difference in the lives of these service members.”
Research Focus “My research focuses on traumatic muscle injuries, volumetric muscle loss injuries (VML), in particular. These injuries involve an extensive loss of muscle tissue beyond the body’s natural capacity for regeneration. There are no approved therapies for VML, and these injuries are fairly common. You can get them from gunshot wounds or from car accidents. The goal of my lab is to develop biomaterial and stem-cell-based therapies to repair those large muscle defects. “
Excitement at SLU “It’s not at all hard to stay excited about this research. Having a lot of industry leaders around is really beneficial. We have a startup that was launched by my students that is focusing on the commercialization and the clinical translation of some of these technologies. So it’s not that far away from actually benefiting patients.”
Working With Students “The student population at SLU is great. They’re really motivated, they’re very hardworking, really excellent researchers. You know, it’s not just about transferring what I have learned. It’s also about getting them excited about these new ideas and sort of inspiring them to go out there and find solutions that are unique and innovative. Students are really the main goal of everything that we do here at SLU.”
Building Toward a Sustainable Future at Seattle University
By Henry Louie, Ph.D. and Phillip Thompson, Ph.D., P.E., Seattle University
Undergraduate engineering students Reeha Rauf, ’25, ’Adrian Rivera, ’23 and Enrique Rodriguez, ’22, work in the Humanitarian Engineering Applications Lab group with Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Henry Louie at Seattle University (Seattle U). Their research, part of a three-year National Science Foundation-funded project, aims to improve the performance and reduce the cost of residential solar power on the nation’s Navajo Reservation. These off-grid solar systems serve some of the more than 10,000 homes on the reservation, where power lines have not and may never reach.
“What I like about this research is that it is practical and will improve people’s lives. We are aiming for sustainable designs, which also means understanding the culture and social context in which the off-grid systems will be used,” says Rodriguez, who is majoring in electrical engineering.
This research project is just one example of how sustainability is woven into the undergraduate engineering experience at Seattle U. “In addition to economic considerations, we ask our students to reflect on the potential societal and environmental impacts of their projects,” says Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Phillip Thompson, director of Seattle U’s Center for Environmental Justice and Sustainability. “We have students consider the triple-bottom-line in the classroom, in our senior design capstone experience, and through undergraduate research projects. We also set an example as a university by prioritizing sustainability in our decision-making.”
The University’s commitment and leadership in sustainability is evident in its #3 ranking among 650 master’s degree institutions by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. In 2021, the University was ranked #14 in Sierra Magazine’s annual “Cool Schools” ranking. And Seattle U was the first university in Washington State, and the first Jesuit university in the United States, to fully commit to divesting its endowment from firms that own coal, oil or natural gas reserves by 2023.
Students in all three of Seattle U’s engineering departments (Civil and Environmental, Electrical and Computer, and Mechanical Engineering) learn about the importance of sustainability in engineering design and decision-making throughout the curriculum. To engineer a more just and sustainable future, students need to go beyond considering just the technical and economic aspects of a design. Traditional engineering courses, such as thermodynamics, are rich with problems and projects that challenge students to produce designs with environmental and social considerations in mind.
A common theme in many courses is a realistic design project that is sustainability-focused. For example, Global Engineering Economics, which is required of all undergraduate engineering students, has student teams develop a plan for an engineering-related business that works in the developing world. Whether their plans are for bicycle-powered cell phone chargers or drinking water treatment systems, the students must first evaluate their business’ triple-bottom-line.
There are also more unique elective offerings in our departments: while courses in renewable energy are becoming more commonplace in undergraduate engineering curricula, Seattle U also offers specialized courses on sustainability. In Civil and Environmental engineering, students may take a course on Sustainable Engineering that focuses on sustainable building design. Electrical engineering students can learn about designing sustainable renewable energy in energy impoverished settings in a course on Off-Grid Systems in Developing Countries.
Engineering students also encounter sustainability from perspectives outside their technical disciplines. Through the University’s core curriculum (as part of the Jesuit liberal arts tradition), engineering students may take classes such as Ecocriticism and Sustainability, or Social Justice and the Environment.
The capstone engineering design experience offers another touchpoint for students to engage with sustainability. Seattle U’s Project Center matches senior engineering student teams with industry and nonprofit sponsors to solve real-world problems. Many of the projects are sustainability-focused. This year, mechanical engineering students are tasked with reducing the energy consumption of a group of historical structures and exploring renewable energy sources for Seattle’s iconic St. James Cathedral. Meanwhile, a team of electrical engineering students are working with Tacoma Power, a local utility firm, to design and evaluate a renewable energy solution to power an island community in the Puget Sound. In the Civil and Environmental engineering department, students are working with Pallet—a social purpose corporation that helps cities to transition homeless communities into permanent housing and employment—to identify best practices for rapid-response modular shelter layouts and to implement off-grid technologies that promote social well-being.
The opportunities for students to engage with sustainability extends beyond the classroom. Since 2004, Seattle U’s Engineers for a Sustainable World chapter has worked with communities in Haiti, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Peru, Thailand and Zambia on projects ranging from aquaponics farming to housing. To date, more than 20,000 people have benefited from their safe drinking water projects.
Seattle U also maintains close ties to local nonprofit organizations that are sustainability-focused and have an international impact. KiloWatts for Humanity (KWH), a nonprofit organization started by Seattle U faculty and staff, implements solar-powered energy kiosks in rural Zambia. Engineering students, mentored by and working closely with KWH’s volunteer-practitioners, are involved in several aspects of the project, from electrical system design and community surveying to in-country system commissioning. These experiential opportunities can have a transformative effect on students, who can see firsthand the enhanced importance of sustainability in at-risk communities.
Seattle U’s commitment to preparing engineering students to build a more just and sustainable future reflects what Pope Francis wrote in his encyclical, Laudato Si’, or ‘On Care for Our Common Home’: “We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it.”
Henry Louie, Ph.D. is a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Seattle University. Phillip Thompson, Ph.D., P.E. is a professor of civil and environmental engineering, and director of the Center for Environmental Justice and Sustainability at Seattle U.
Detroit Mercy Brings Computer Science Education to Detroit Public Schools
By Ricky Lindsay, Senior Communications Officer, University of Detroit Mercy
This fall, high school students in the Detroit Public Schools Community District will have improved access to a high-quality computer science education, thanks to a partnership between the University of Detroit Mercy (Detroit Mercy) and Michigan State University (MSU). The two schools recently received a one million dollar National Science Foundation (NSF) collaborative grant that will expand Detroit Mercy’s iDRAW (innovating Detroit’s Robotic Agile Workforce) program by implementing AP Computer Science Principles courses at several Detroit Public Schools. The grant will also help high school teachers in the district to deliver high-quality computer science instruction.
The grant, titled “Collaborative Research: Moving beyond access, increasing teacher knowledge to teach rigorous equity-focused high school computing,” was awarded as part of NSF’s Computer Science for All program. “Locally and nationally, there is a great need for trained professionals to fill open positions in computer science and information technology,” says Richard Hill, assistant dean for research and external initiatives at Detroit Mercy’s College of Engineering and Science. “These are rewarding, well-compensated careers for which many underserved students don’t have access. This grant seeks to reduce existing barriers.”
For more than two years, Detroit Mercy’s iDRAW program has supported students at Melvindale High School and Cesar Chavez Academy High School. Since its inception, Detroit Mercy has conferred 255 dual enrollment credits to students and has trained teachers in ten Michigan school districts through the program’s teacher boot camps.
Students who take the new computer science course at Detroit Public Schools will learn a variety of important concepts, including coding, the operation of the internet, how information is stored and transmitted, as well as examining relationships between technology and society. Curriculum is structured to be both an AP and dual enrollment course, which allows students to earn high school and college credit for their coursework, rather than having credit awarded based solely on test scores.
“The NSF grant helps us give rigorous, university-level access to a lot of students,” says Andrew Lapetina, an instructor with Detroit Mercy’s iDRAW program. “Anybody can hop on a website and learn some basic coding stuff, but is that going to provide a student with inspiration or mentoring or feedback that they need to feel like they can be really competent in that field? This is what iDRAW will allow us to do.”
That inspiration comes in a number of forms. People of color who are Detroit Mercy alumni and work in STEM fields often speak to students in the iDRAW program about their pathways and expertise. Students also get first-hand exposure to robotics, engineering and computer science during field trips to Detroit Mercy’s College of Engineering and Science.
iDRAW utilizes a unique teaching model in which a College of Engineering and Science instructor co-teaches with high school teachers throughout the academic year. Lapetina will co-teach with several teachers in the district as the program expands to Detroit Public Schools.
In addition to co-teaching, the NSF grant includes teacher training to impact more students in Detroit Public Schools. MSU faculty Aman Yadav and Michael Lachney will evaluate the development of high school teachers and implement training on culturally responsive computing. Jocelyn Bennett-Garraway, director of school counseling and associate professor of counseling at Detroit Mercy, is a co-principal investigator for the grant and will evaluate the impact of iDRAW on the career development of high school students.
Hill, a principal investigator for the grant, says that it is based in Detroit Mercy’s Jesuit and Mercy missions because it “demonstrates the University’s commitment to being an engaged member of Detroit and to lend our expertise and resources to provide opportunities for underserved, local youth.” He continues, “The training will improve the teachers’ technical skills, while helping them to connect computing to the backgrounds and interests of their students.”
Lapetina has worked with local students since iDRAW’s inception. He believes that every high school in Detroit Public Schools should have a university-level computer science course for students, and is eager to see the impact of this three-year grant. “We’re working on improving our curriculum to better serve students of color,” Lapetina says. “Traditionally, computer science curriculum and education has been reflective of people who are prominent in the field. People of color have not always been recognized for their contributions. We’re hoping to change that with this grant.”
“If we’re able to expand this model and build teacher capacity across the entire district, the number of students who will end up being able to get four-year computer science degrees or four-year engineering degrees will improve dramatically,” Lapetina adds. “And that’s really the goal: It’s student-focused and student-serving, that all students have access to a really rigorous computer science course, and that students are feeling competent in their ability to enter a four-year engineering program.”
By Jenny Smulson, Vice President of Government Relations, AJCU
If you visit the Capitol this week, you might find that it seems almost sleepy. If you are e-mailing Congressional staff, you might get more “out of office” responses than usual. This is expected given that Congress is not in session this week, but don’t let this pseudo-lull fool you: behind the scenes, there is lots of activity happening and as soon the district work period ends, Members of Congress and their staff will be back in Washington working furiously to advance their agendas before the end of the 117th U.S. Congress in December 2022.
While December seems far off, it is a short period of time for policy-wonks, especially as we count down toward Election Day knowing that it will heavily influence the dynamics on Capitol Hill. There is much speculation as to what gets completed through regular order, what is left for a lame duck session, or what gets kicked to the next Congress. For advocates, this is no time for rest. We must be ready to boldly articulate our priorities for the year and make our case to Congressional offices and the Administration for programs and policies that support post-secondary students and Jesuit higher education broadly.
AJCU’s Priorities Federal student aid is at the heart of the government relations work we do for our schools and the students who attend, or hope to attend, them. Not only do federal financial aid programs make a Jesuit higher education more accessible, but by providing more grant aid to students, data show that it is an investment that leads to greater success as measured by increased graduation rates.
Numerous studies point to the positive relationship between increased grant aid and graduation rates of students with economic need. In 2014, Ray Franke, an assistant professor of education at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, analyzed databases from the National Center for Education Statistics and found that “[F]financial aid effects provide further evidence that need-based grant programs are effective in fostering low-income student success, and respective programs at the federal and state level weigh the long-term effects on the state’s economy when reducing funding for crucial need-based aid programs.” This is one of many studies that uphold the same findings: federal grant aid increases student completion and is a valuable investment.
This month, AJCU is asking Congress to increase appropriations for federal student aid programs, and other higher education programs, with the goal of better supporting low-income students in their pursuit of higher education. AJCU seeks to increase the maximum Pell Grant to $13,000 and increase funding for the campus-based aid programs: Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants to $1.09 billion and Federal Work Study to $1.520 billion. AJCU believes that student support services programs like TRIO and GEAR UP are key to success in college, and will encourage Congress to provide $1.307 billion for the Federal TRIO program and $435 million for the GEAR UP program. AJCU also support investments in graduate education and will call on Congress to fund Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need at its authorized level of $35 million. Finally, AJCU supports $161.1 million for International Education and the Fulbright-Hays program (Title VI).
We continue to work with champions in Congress to provide permanent status to DREAMERS and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) recipients. Through the federal rulemaking process, AJCU advocated to maintain and strengthen the DACA program and urged the Administration to work with Congress to extend the full protection of citizenship to DREAMERS. While this remains one of the biggest legislative challenges, it continues to be a priority for AJCU. AJCU also strongly supports President Biden’s recommendation to make DACA recipients eligible for federal student financial aid.
Another important issue that AJCU will advocate for is increased awareness of and support for mental health programs on college campuses. Earlier this year, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee announced a bipartisan effort to strengthen mental health and substance use disorder programs in the wake of the pandemic. The TREAT Act was introduced in February with bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate. (AJCU had previously endorsed legislation that would create a uniform waiver for licensure during a declared state of emergency to ensure mental health services could be provided to students regardless of where they were living.) For students who returned home during a time of great uncertainty at the start of the pandemic, mental health support was even more critical. AJCU will continue to promote the TREAT Act and push for its adoption.
In addition, AJCU will look closely at an existing program that supports campus suicide prevention, with an eye toward reviewing and reauthorizing it. The SAMSHA Garrett Lee Smith Campus Suicide Prevention program must have an adequate authorization of appropriations to serve identified student needs, as well as purposeful, focused uses of funds to support prevention and early intervention services.
In a recent letter to Congress, AJCU’s president, Rev. Michael J. Garanzini, S.J., captured the urgency of our work on behalf of our students and in seeking a more caring and just world:
“At Jesuit colleges and universities, we seek to provide students not only with a well-rounded education, but also the tools of discernment: the spiritual guidance and support they will need to make carefully informed decisions. On our campuses, we encourage our students to make the plight of those who are marginalized a core feature of their educational experiences — understanding that the future they wish to construct cannot be exclusive to themselves, but inclusive of the entire human family. The Jesuit values that animate our schools offer an invitation to students to engage in the world around them and use their gifts and knowledge to make it better. In this pursuit, AJCU recognizes that federal student aid is a powerful equalizer and a foundational means of expanding access for those who choose a Jesuit higher education, especially students with economic need.”