As an undergraduate student in Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE), Sheyenne Harris (BSE Env ’20) attended a meeting of BIndEX, a organization in the department of Industrial Operations Engineering (IOE) dedicated to creating a place for Black IOE students to engage in dialogue and connect with faculty.
“I noticed how close and how comfortable everyone was around each other, and how they supported each other. I wanted to take the model that they had and implement it into the Civil and Environmental Engineering department,” said Harris.
Beginning in the winter of 2019, Harris worked with fellow students Letty Loeza, Erik Anderson II, James Jones, Joshua Powell, and CEE Associate Professor Herek Clack to establish such an organization in CEE. The organization they created, Sustainability, Civil, and Environmental Engineering Minorities (SCEEM), is one of several newly-formed groups in the College of Engineering that reflect a growing understanding of the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion in effective teams.
“It’s pretty much common knowledge at this point that more diverse groups come to better solutions than homogeneous groups,” said SCEEM’s current president, CEE Senior Erik Anderson. “Having that diversity in civil and environmental engineering and in sustainability helps us come to better solutions that can be used to actually achieve what we’re looking for and also mitigate any negative side effects, such as environmental racism.”
According to the group’s mission statement, SCEEM “focuses on fostering a socially conscious community of diverse students within Sustainability, Urban Planning, Civil & Environmental Engineering programs by creating a safe space between minority students and faculty.” Members include undergraduate and graduate students in CEE, the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts’ Program in the Environment, the A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, and the School for Environment and Sustainability.
Anderson emphasizes that a shared sense of community and purpose is one of the group’s greatest strengths.
“It has been so beneficial to have the space to come together and talk about sustainability and environmental solutions. Sometimes it can be very difficult to find people who want to listen to all of the pieces involved. They’re not exactly surface-level solutions,” Anderson said. “Having the opportunity to bring that community to other people has been the best part about SCEEM for me.”
SCEEM held their first general body meeting in January 2020. Although it has been a challenge to establish and maintain a community in a virtual environment, SCEEM has found ways to connect and share opportunities with its members. In meetings last semester, they held breakout discussions on climate change solutions and joined in virtual activities to have fun and get to know each other. Members on their email list receive notifications about relevant internship, fellowship, and volunteer opportunities.
In the future, they plan to invite guest speakers; provide networking opportunities with other students, academics, and professionals; and facilitate study groups.
As SCEEM prepares for the next academic year, they are focused on building membership, filling leadership positions for a smooth transition, and connecting with alumni.
“For those alumni of CEE who when they passed through the program were on their own, I would hope that they would strongly consider reaching out to SCEEM and offering to come to a meeting, to share their experience entering and working in industry or academia. We would love them reaching out,” said Clack, who serves as SCEEM’s faculty advisor.