The Diverse Engineering Professionals Conference welcomed an enthusiastic crop of students Saturday for its second year in a row.
Participants arrived at Lafferre Hall on Oct. 6 for breakfast and opening remarks. The day’s nearly eight-hour long agenda included workshops, a keynote speech, catered lunch and a networking fair.
Following their inaugural event in 2017, Assistant Dean for Inclusive Excellence and Strategic Initiatives Tojan Rahhal looked to make the conference an even bigger success. Alongside her team of student organization reps, including members from National Society of Black Engineers, Society Hispanic Professional Engineers, Society of Women Engineers and more, Rahhal began planning in January.
“In the fall, we meet [weekly] for an hour and start finalizing companies, finalizing registration, advertising, promoting,” she said of the process. “The support’s been really good this year, and I think it’s because word spread last year about how great and beneficial [DEPC] was.”
After nine months of hard work, the team saw major payoff Saturday with attendance nearly doubling from the year prior — a bump in which Rahhal partly credits to the conference schedule. By switching last year’s 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. format to a more efficient 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. schedule, they weren’t losing students as the day wore on.
The wildly popular workshop lineup included three tracks: professional development, company info session and diversity education. With three different sessions each hour, students had the opportunity to pick and choose what to attend based on interest.
“Our diversity peer educators on campus, they come do a training,” Rahhal explained. “We have the IDE [Inclusion, Diversity and Equity] office, which is the main diversity office, do a training, as well. And then we have some companies that choose to talk about diversity and inclusivity at their workshops. Some choose to talk about the career opportunities at their companies.”
Ameren chose to do a how-to workshop on behavioral and technical interviewing, while AT&T talked about the power of LinkedIn.
“My favorite part of the day was the workshops because it was so great to see the honest conversations that were happening,” attendee Samantha Sample said. “One of the workshops I [went to] started out as a company presentation, but over time, it evolved into a workshop-wide discussion where everyone was asking for advice for their peers and people were responding. It became a really collaborative environment.”
According to Rahhal, they welcomed a full house for opening remarks, had out-the-door workshop lines and roughly 200 were counted for lunch. However, it was hardly the numbers alone that made the day such a success.
“During the keynote, I had students texting me, ‘the keynote’s speaking to me, this conference means so much to me, I’ve learned so much,’ and coming up to me after saying, ‘the workshops were so helpful,’” Rahhal said. “I think that’s important, that we stay on that theme and that the sessions are impactful. I think word will spread, because that’s what happened last year. Everyone was like, ‘you got to be there this year.’ So, they’re here.”
For the students, DEPC offered a unique and intimate opportunity at getting to know new companies and their representatives.
“As you can imagine, they spend all day with the reps, attending workshops and then later meeting with them one-on-one and exchanging resumes,” Rahhal continued.
According to Sara Lozano-Sanchez, a planning committee and Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers member, it’s not only about allowing the companies to get to know the students, but vice versa.
“It’s a great opportunity for organizations to meet with companies on a one-on-one basis, and it really shows a lot about the companies that do come because it tells us they care about diversity,” Lozano-Sanchez said. “That’s something that’s really important and close to my heart.”
For Lozano-Sanchez and other members of the Inclusivity Center and on-campus diversity organizations, the event was also about cultivating community.
“I hope that students see the importance of the diversity orgs on campus since we’re not just inviting the students who are involved in diversity orgs,” she continued. “We’re inviting students from all over campus. I think it would be really cool for them to see some of the things we get to do together.”
Fellow attendee Brooke Flynn agreed.
“[Saturday] really fostered a sense of connection and heart with the Mizzou engineering community, because it shows that diversity and inclusion are vitally important to any community that you’re a part of.
Now with the second and even more successful Diverse Engineering Professionals Conference complete, Rahhal and her team will look to growing it further.
“Next week’s meeting is our debrief meeting, but I feel like everything went well,” she said. “I think we need larger rooms. We’ll book up all the auditoriums, especially for the in-demand sessions because it’s just going to keep growing. Next year, we’ll want more companies to come too. Last year we had eight, this year we have 12, so we’ll want to keep that coming.”