Eve Riskin, professor of electrical engineering and associate dean of diversity and access in the College of Engineering, has been a tireless — and effective — champion of diversity and inclusion at the University of Washington. In recognition of her efforts, Riskin was honored with the 2017 Diversity Award by the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department Heads Association (ECEDHA) during the organization’s annual conference in March.
“Dr. Riskin has been a trailblazer in diversity and access well before diversity and access became common words in the academic community,” said Professor and Chair Radha Poovendran.
In nominating Riskin for the award, Poovendran highlighted Riskin’s work as leading principal investigator on the Washington STate Academic RedShirt in Engineering Program — known as STARS. A two-year program with a specialized curriculum designed to build learning skills and academic preparation, STARS serves highly-motivated Washington students from economically disadvantaged and educationally underserved backgrounds who intend to major in engineering. Similar to the “redshirt” year in college athletics, in the STARS program the first year is devoted to building learning skills, academic preparation and support systems.
Speaking of her work with the STARS program, Riskin said, “It is waste of talent to not provide opportunities in engineering to students, just because they come from less privileged backgrounds.”
Since its launch in 2013, the success of the program in providing those opportunities has been remarkable. To date, ~75% of the students in the four STARS cohorts remain enrolled in Engineering or Computer Science, and three students graduated in four years. Nationally, engineering retention numbers hover around 50%, so STARS’ 75% retention rate is phenomenal. Survey data show that STARS students are much more familiar with UW support resources than students who are not in STARS. Over the first five STARS cohorts, nearly 50% are underrepresented minorities; 40% are women; 70% are first-generation college students; and 84% hold Pell Grants.
Importantly, the impact of the program for STARS students ripples outward across engineering students. “The STARS program benefits not only the STARS participants,” Poovendran noted. “They share the knowledge of resources and opportunities that they gain from STARS with their non-STARS peers from similar backgrounds.”
Riskin is also faculty director of the UW ADVANCE Center for Institutional Change. Originally funded by a National Science Foundation grant from 2001 to 2007, ADVANCE continues to thrive as a campus center aimed at supporting faculty in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. Thanks to the work of ADVANCE, the UW saw a 93% increase in the number of tenured or tenure-track women faculty, and specifically a 115% increase in College of Engineering women faculty, in the years 2001–2015. Today, the UW’s tenured or tenure-track engineering faculty is 23% women, compared to only 15% nationally.
“Eve truly merits this distinguished Diversity Award because of her tireless and effective efforts to make engineering across the UW and the U.S. more welcoming and inclusive of women and underrepresented minorities,” said UW President Ana Mari Cauce. A professor of psychology, Cauce is a former principal investigator of UW ADVANCE. “She not only recognizes how greater diversity of people and perspectives makes engineering stronger, she is working, through education, to make sure that others also appreciate the importance of diversity not just to equity, but to excellence.”
Several other campus initiatives have benefited from Riskin’s involvement. Launching Academics on the Tenure-Track, an Intentional Community in Engineering (LATTICE), is a national program to advance early-career women in electrical engineering and computer science, and women from underrepresented groups from all fields in engineering, through symposia, peer networks and ethnographic research. LEAD and LEAD-it-Yourself! are two NSF-funded programs to provide professional development to STEM department chairs to enable them to create a positive department culture for diverse faculty. The NSF-funded Promoting Equity in Engineering Relationships (PEERs) program supported interventions to improve the experiences of women and underrepresented groups in engineering through peer education. And the On-Ramps into Academia program provided professional development to roughly 70 women STEM Ph.D.s in industry or research laboratories who were interested in academia, of whom at least 10 are now working in academic positions.