Lola Eniola-Adefeso in a lab with a colleague

Prof. Eniola-Adefeso on making engineering more equitable

Video excerpts from the “Inspiring Transformation” series.

Associate Dean for Graduate and Professional Education Lola Eniola-Adefeso, a professor of chemical engineering, biomedical engineering and University Diversity and Social Transformation Professor, shares her perspective after seeing the challenges women and people of color face in academia.

Video transcript

Professor Eniola-Adefeso: As more diverse people enter the professoriate we need to ensure that we have structure in place to help them persist. For engineering faculty, research funding is a critical piece of that. I know this from my own experience, and from the lens of leaving a space better I found it, it is critical that we ensure that the next generation of faculty of color have more equitable access to research funding. This motivation led us to the Fund Black Scientists Initiative.

With a mindset to leave spaces better than she found them, professor Eniola-Adefeso outlines what institutional changes can be made to make engineering more equitable as part of the “Inspiring Transformation” series created and curated by the Center for Academic Innovation and the The National Center for Institutional Diversity.

Video transcript

Professor Eniola-Adefeso: NIH data reported a decade ago, which is still valid today, showed that faculty of color, especially black faculty, were less likely to receive NIH funding, and this disparity was not linked to the quality of their scholarship or the quality of their institution. Why is this important? Research dollars are the currency by which all faculty move through the academic pipeline, and faculty of color should not be disadvantaged in navigating the systems. So a number of my colleagues, especially women who care deeply about more representation and this relationship with faculty funding, decided to work together to raise awareness. So we wrote an editorial, published in the journal Cell, re-highlighting this issue and calling on all NIH investigator to help us to push for change. Much to our delight, within hours of the publication coming out, hundreds of thousands of people joined the call for NIH to fix their funding process and fund black scientists.

To date, the article has reached an online audience of more than 15 million, and more than 30 outlets have covered the initiative, and by and large, the response has been overwhelmingly positive, that the NIH should do something. We also called on the newly appointed Director of the Office for Science and Technology Policy for the Biden administration, Eric Lander, saying that the time is now for him to ask NIH and all other funding agencies to eliminate any disparity, racial, ethnicity, gender, that exists within their funding portfolio. We are delighted that the NIH has heard our call, and Dr. Lander agrees that this is mission critical for the United States research enterprise.

Last year, Professor Eniola-Adefeso was a senior author on a perspective piece published in the journal Cell, which called on National Institutes of Health and other funding agencies to address the stark disparity in research funding between white and Black scientists. In 2019 alone, the gap amounted to $32 million.

Video transcript

Professor Eniola-Adefeso: As I take in the success of the peer mentor program to date, I realized that my experiences with my identity factored strongly into understanding the need for this type of program and helped me understand how to structure it. In general, we know that our experiences shape our trajectory. Therefore, it is critical for young scholars of color, especially Black women and Latina, to see other faculty who look like them and support them to help them succeed. So the core question was, how can we increase this meaningful representation of people of color, especially women, into faculty? This led to the NextProf Pathfinder. NextProf Pathfinder is a national program that supports first year graduate student in finding a path to academia. Students from all over the nation come to U of M to learn about faculty career paths. We share our experiences, demystify the hidden information, and talk about academic freedom.

NextProf future faculty program returned to University of Michigan last fall after two years touring partnering campuses. Since offering the first NextProf Workshop in 2012, over 1200 students have participated.

Beginning in 2018, three institutions have partnered with Michigan Engineering—UC Berkeley and Georgia Tech have helped expand NextProf Nexus, and UC San Diego has done so with NextProf Pathfinder. This multi-institutional momentum ups the ante on a long-term investment in diversifying talent in engineering academia, not just for U-M but for the whole field. 

Video transcript

Professor Eniola-Adefeso: As I move to academic spaces, I see challenges that people who look like me face, both as a woman and as a person of color in STEM, and in my mindset of leaving things better than I found them, I find myself drawn to what institutional changes can be made to make engineering more equitable for women and people of color. The first question of course I asked myself was why? Why is this needed? The major issue with engineering spaces is that there aren’t enough women and there aren’t many people of color. So any and all change in the short term must focus on addressing this very problem, interventions that will help make the spaces more welcoming and inclusive for all.

Eniola-Adefeso is a University Diversity and Social Transformation Professor, the associate dean for graduate and professional education in engineering, and a professor of chemical engineering, biomedical engineering and macromolecular science and engineering. Her lab is a pioneer in cellular adhesion & vascular targeted drug delivery. Last year, she became Associate Dean for Graduate & Professional Education. Watch her full talk:

Professor Eniola-Adefeso is amongst the 19 professors recognized by the U-M regents for commitments to scholarly inquiry related to DEI, inclusive teaching and mentoring, as well as impactful service and engagement that has provided greater access and opportunity.

The “Inspiring Transformation” series was created and curated by the Center for Academic Innovation and the NCID.