LAWRENCE — An organization that supports women and minority students at the University of Kansas School of Engineering is celebrating its 45th anniversary this year. A ceremony to commemorate this milestone for Engineering Diversity and Women’s Programs is set for 7 p.m. Saturday, April 9, in the LEEP2 McClendon Atrium.
The program provide female and minority engineering students with support in a variety of areas, including financial, networking, academics and emotional.
Florence Boldridge, director of Diversity and Women’s Programs, organized the ceremony to honor those who helped the program succeed over the years since its inception in 1971.
KU Engineering’s first director of Diversity Programs, William Hogan, will be the keynote speaker. Boldridge will honor Emeritus Distinguished Professors Don Green and Floyd Preston, members of the Diversity Programs Advisory Board and associate deans and former deans of the School of Engineering.
Green and Preston were chemical engineering professors who helped create the organization in the early 1970s. With the help of several others, they laid a foundation for scholarships by directing a group of students through the process of fundraising from corporations.
“These men were responsible for guiding the students through the School of Engineering,” Boldridge said. “The whole idea behind the program was to get as many students to remain in the engineering program as possible.”
In addition to being the program’s first full-time director, Hogan was the first African-American professor at the School of Engineering.
“He’s going to talk about the organization and the part that it plays in today’s society,” Boldridge said. “Many of these kinds of organizations are no longer in existence, so he will be speaking on the importance of minority engineering education.”
Student presidents from organizations within the Diversity and Women’s Program will also speak at the event. This includes Matthew McFarlane from the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), Christine Perinchery from the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), William Teeple from the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) and Paul Vicente from Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE).
Nationwide, there is a lack of minority and female representation in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. This creates a greater need for these types of support systems to provide guidance and assistance, Boldridge said.
“It’s important for students to get a sense of belonging,” she said. “When they are a part of an organization like this one, they get that feeling that ‘this is here just for me.’ In addition, we know it’s important that they realize they are valued and that they have a place in the School of Engineering.”
In her 33 years as director of Diversity and Women’s Programs, Boldridge most enjoys connecting with students and fostering their success. This often requires her to play different roles in order to help students reach their full potential.
“Sometimes I’m an administrator and I come in and chat,” Boldridge said. “But other times I need to lay out for them exactly what they need to do to get through the program and what will happen if they do not take appropriate measures. I really do take the place of the parent in some ways.”
When the program originally launched in 1971, it targeted African-American students and operated as the Student Council for Recruiting, Motivating and Educating Black Engineers. Over the years, it has expanded to include AISES, NSBE, SHPE and SWE. The name of the program changed to the Diversity and Women’s Programs in order to accommodate all groups involved.
Diversity and Women’s Programs has aided more than 700 minority engineering students at KU.