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Head of NSF’s Directorate of Engineering discusses diversity and research at FIU
Margulies meets with students and faculty in a classroom on Wednesday.

Head of NSF’s Directorate of Engineering discusses diversity and research at FIU

June 3, 2022 at 10:00am

Listening, learning and wanting to serve, Susan Margulies, head of the National Science Foundation’s Directorate of Engineering, led a discussion at the College of Engineering and Computing (CEC) Wednesday about diversity and inclusion in education and research. 

“Engineering has a big road ahead in truly addressing diversity, inclusion and belonging,” Margulies said to a group of students and faculty. “I think this is the perfect setting for me to listen and learn about paths that have been successful, the paths that are still challenging and your thoughts about translation to other campuses." 

NSF’s budget for engineering research was $767 million in 2021, Margulies said. She hoped to hear about ways that the engineering community could unleash opportunities for more people.

“You have something very special here,” Margulies said. 

In the spring of 2022, more than 60 percent of College of Engineering and Computing students were Hispanic and 10 percent were Black. At the same time, FIU’s NSF-funded expenditures for projects with a principal investigator housed in CEC totaled more than $60 million in the last five years.

During the discussion, a question was raised to students: From your experience, how might more people in underrepresented groups get into engineering? 

One person said there would be more students in the field if they saw more faculty that looked like them. Another student said they were raised in a family of construction workers, so engineering was always of interest.

Naomi Lowe, a mechanical engineering major, said that if more people got involved with engineering organizations, it could inspire them to stay in the field. The senior observed this effect while representing Panther Motorsports—an organization where students build vehicles from scratch—at Michigan Formula SAE, a competition that invited students from around the world to design, develop and compete with their vehicles.

As a driver for the FIU team, Lowe was approached by a young black woman from another university. While seeing Lowe work, the student shouted, ‘Black girls in engineering!’

The two have since made a group chat and now Lowe is answering the young woman’s questions about how to get involved in engineering clubs. 

"She asked me, ‘How did you do it? How did you find out how to keep on going?’” Lowe said. “I said that it’s pretty easy. When you are on a team that you’ve built a connection with, you feel comfortable with them. As a driver, you know that you trust them and their engineering. And they trust you to drive that vehicle.” 

After the discussion about diversity and inclusion, students and faculty stayed to hear a conversation about NSF’s latest research priorities and initiatives. FIU researchers were also able to discuss their work with Margulies, who offered personalized suggestions on how to position their studies for NSF funding. 

With the help of NSF funding, CEC is currently advancing an array of innovations, including: 

  • A neuroimaging web service interface that will help clinicians and researchers who want to study Alzheimer's Disease but lack expertise in image processing and computing 
  • A miniature heart chamber created from nanoengineered parts and human heart tissue by a multi-university team that will give scientists close-up opportunities to study cardiovascular problems 
  • Through FIU’s Extreme Events Institute, a facility that will test the impact of extreme winds combined with storm surge and wave actions on different types of civil infrastructure. CEC faulty are working with the Extreme Events Institute on the facility.

Margulies was one of several national leaders on campus Wednesday attending a press conference at the FIU Wall of Wind. There, Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell announced a new initiative by the Biden-Harris administration to modernize building codes, improve climate resilience and reduce energy costs.