My name is Otakuye Conroy-Ben, and I’m an Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Utah and an Officer of the Board of Directors for the American Indian Science & Engineering Society. I am from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, and may be one of the only American Indian female tenure-track engineering faculty in the country. I received a BS in Chemistry from the University of Notre Dame, and an MA in Chemistry, an MS in Environmental Engineering, and a Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering from the University of Arizona.
Female STEM faculty and faculty of color are severely lacking at institutions of higher education across the country. While an undergraduate at the University of Notre Dame I did not encounter a single female or minority faculty member in my science curriculum. During my Ph.D. engineering program, there were no female faculty members in Environmental Engineering, but there was one Hispanic male professor. It wasn’t until I ventured to the Chemistry department when I found two female professors in the Analytical division. Needless to say, I was successful academically without the presence of a female or minority professor, however working with one would have made the path to success easier.
The Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Utah is making efforts to diversify its faculty, much to the credit of our departing Chair, Dr. Paul Tikalsky. Of the 17 tenured and tenure-track faculty, two are Hispanic males, one is American Indian (myself), and there are four Caucasian women. I believe our department is the most diverse in the College of Engineering, and our students understand and appreciate this aspect.
The number of American Indian STEM faculty at mainstream institutions across the country is scarce. Presently, there are three American Indian male engineering faculty, located at UC Davis, Colorado School of Mines, and the University of Idaho. There are more (~20) American Indian science faculty across the country. At the University of Arizona, the Provost and Dean of Engineering have developed an initiative to make the University the top institution for American Indian STEM research. They believe academic success for our student population begins with the recruitment of American Indian STEM faculty, and have invested financially in this endeavor.
I encourage the National Academy of Sciences to pursue programs to support faculty development for women and people of color. It is true that often times the female faculty member is the only diverse individual at the decision table. This has been the case in several instances when I sat on panels at the National Science Foundation and the Environmental Protection Agency. In order to bring additional perspectives to the decision-making table at the
16 Otakuye Conroy-Ben, Ph.D., PE, Secretary, Board of Directors, American Indian Science and Engineering Society; and Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Utah.