Swanson Workshops Foster Environment of Gender Equity

Sylvanus Wosu, associate dean for diversity affairs at the Swanson School of Engineering, came to Pitt in 2000 with a mandate to run diversity programming but, he said, “I did not get a PhD in diversity. I was a scientist and engineer. I did not really have an academic background in diversity. What I had that perhaps gave me this job is my passion for diversity and inclusion.”

Behind that passion was a drive to foster what he called “an environment of excellence.”

Wosu was a professor of physics for 12 years at two different institutions, a department chair for nine years and a dean for one year. “There are, from my experience, challenges for women in STEM. A female student or faculty is more likely to feel excluded,” he said.

As a step to help foster a more inclusive culture at Swanson, Wosu and Natalia Goodnow, diversity program coordinator for the Swanson School, worked with Pitt’s Society of Women Engineers chapter to host an Allies for Gender Equity workshop series in honor of March’s Women’s History Month.

Over the course of two days at Benedum Hall, three faculty associated with North Dakota State University’s Focus on Resources for Women’s Advancement, Recruitment/Retention and Development (FORWARD) program facilitated workshops for Pitt faculty and students that explored the impact of gender on women’s experiences in higher education and the responsibilities men have as allies for gender equity.

The programming had separate content directed toward female and male audiences. Additionally, separate evening sessions were hosted for student-only audiences.

“Men are interested in programming being gender-mixed, but the women are not,” said Christi McGeorge, professor of human development and family science at NDSU. McGeorge facilitated the sessions for women, Gender and Higher Education: Exploring Women’s Experiences. “They don’t often have many opportunities in a professional setting where it’s only women. For them it’s something unique.”

Resources for Gender Equity Allies

Explore more resources, including a self-starting guide and evaluation data, at North Dakota State University's FORWARD program's Advocates and Allies Resources web page.

Robert Gordon, senior lecturer and director of the undergraduate program in the Department of Psychology at Auburn University, also noted that tailoring the workshop content and audiences by gender helps to support one of the goals of the workshop, which is understand our responsibility in this climate. Along with Roger Green, associate professor and undergraduate coordinator of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at NDSU, Gordon facilitated the workshops for men.

Goodnow underscored the importance of the workshop’s practical, takeaway resources to Swanson School diversity programming. “The main request is that it’s not just informative, but also has some tool or takeaway for the audience so that they feel not only educated about the topic, but can do something about it,” she said.

Wosu said that programming like the FORWARD workshops is one way he can help create bigger impact and broader effects on culture. “That type of culture of inclusivity is where I want us to go,” he said. “We want to create a model for diversity and inclusion.”