For MU Engineering’s Inclusivity Center, fall marks an important milestone as it reaches its one year anniversary on campus.
The center, which opened in 2017, launched as a welcoming space for students, faculty and staff within the College of Engineering. The program is spearheaded by Director of Diversity and Outreach Initiatives Tojan Rahhal, who began her work with the space back in March 2017. According to Rahhal, MU was looking to promote a more inclusive environment both in and outside of the classroom.
“The data shows that STEM has a large underrepresentation of women and minorities,” Rahhal said. “We need to work on not just recruiting but also graduating more women in STEM and more African American and Hispanic students in STEM, as well. That is where the center comes into play.”
Under Rahhal’s leadership, the Inclusivity Center has held a number of successful events and become a welcoming campus home for both students and faculty alike.
“Our mission statement is about fostering conversation amongst all groups,” she continued. “That’s what we pride ourselves in, creating events and programs that everyone can come to and feel welcome and be able to have conversation. A big aspect of being inclusive is just talking with people who are different from you.”
Largely serving as a facilitator for those conversations, Rahhal emphasized the importance these discussions, as well as the center’s services and resources, are for setting up students for success in engineering.
Despite debuting on campus only a year ago, the Inclusivity Center has seen rapid growth in its early life. As Rahhal put it, the team really “hit the ground running,” and has already managed to pull off over 40 successful events. Visits at the center have increased by more than 100 in just one semester, and over the course of the academic year, 600 to 1,000 engineering students have been in engaged with the program in some aspect.
“You can see between fall and spring a big shift,” Rahhal said. “People know who we are, what our events are for, and are more excited to come.”
The buzz surrounding the Inclusivity Center has also reached beyond the current student population. According to Rahhal, they’ve received overwhelming enthusiasm from engineering graduates, as well.
“It’s definitely been very successful, it’s been a big hit,” she continued. “I have alumni that come back during the career fair, and they’re like, ‘We heard about this place and we couldn’t believe it.’ They’re excited.”
The center is also seeing return on that excitement. The Diverse Engineering Professionals conference is set for Oct. 6, and many of the companies in attendance will include alumni, eager to show their support for the Inclusivity and Diversity initiatives.
“We’ve definitely set the tone for who engineering is and where we’re going as far as being a model of inclusive excellence for the College of Engineering,” Rahhal said. “I think it’s very important because we’re setting the tone and expectation right up front that the Inclusivity Center is a part of our college and it’s an important part. We care about our students overall holistic well being, as well as our faculty and staff. And we’re doing everything we can to make sure everyone has access to the resources they need to succeed here.”
For those students involved, that passion is obvious and is seen throughout their initiatives.
“For me, it has been such a incredible place, where I’ve found my way in such a big school and [felt] a little more at home,” Sara Lozano-Sanchez, a senior Civil Engineering major, said. “It’s definitely welcoming, and it’s also helped a lot with an organization I’m involved in called Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. We get tremendous support from the Inclusivity Center and all the people who work there.”
And while the center’s programming and resources have been significant on campus, for Lozano-Sanchez the space has had a much more personal impact.
“Having this place just encourages more diversity and, more importantly, just gives people a place of their own, and that matters,” she said.