Statler College student-led conference promotes sense of belonging for all
On October 27, members from the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources at West Virginia University gathered to celebrate the exchange of personal experiences, values, and beliefs at All Voices as ONE: Together We Can Innovate and Shape the Future, the first student led diversity conference hosted by the College.
Story by Brittany Furbee, Communications Specialist
Photos by Paige Nesbit, Director of Marketing
The conference was organized by eight engineering students who are members of the
Statler Diversity, Equity and Inclusion student committee and the Office of the
Dean through the Associate Dean for Student, Faculty and Staff Engagement,
Cerasela Zoica Dinu.
“This event was important for me to be involved in because I knew it would allow students, faculty and staff to see how diverse we all are and how we can learn about each other and our cultures,” said committee member Olivia Rose, a doctoral biomedical engineering student from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. “I have always been passionate about discovering and understanding peoples' traditions, cultures and relating them to my own.”
After reviewing many potential candidates, the student committee chose to invite Statler College alumni Bevin VanGilder and Olayemi Akinkugbe to serve as keynote speakers and panelists for the event.
“The highlight of planning the event was developing programming that included multiple sessions for students to engage with alumni in a variety of ways,” said committee member Raafay Uqaily, a senior biomedical engineering student from Morgantown. “It was important to hear from alumni because they have successfully graduated from the same programs as our target audience and could best comment on how to tackle obstacles that we will most likely encounter in the future upon entering the workforce and while rising up the ranks to hold positions of leadership.”
As the event kicked off, the packed auditorium was buzzing with excitement as students, faculty and staff gathered to hear the inspirational stories of how the guest speakers went from Statler College students to successful professionals in executive leadership roles.
VanGilder, Lower Carbon Director at Chevron and 2003 bachelor’s in petroleum and natural gas engineering graduate of the Statler College, led the audience on a journey as she shared her experience from growing up in Fairmont, West Virginia, to entering a male dominated industry and working her way up at a Fortune 500 company.
Throughout her speech, she shared lessons that helped her overcome adversity, explaining that it’s okay to be vulnerable and to challenge perceptions and stereotypes in the workplace. She also stressed the importance that students should aim to work for companies that share their core values and allow them to be their true authentic selves in the workplace.
“You're going to have your own unique story, your own unique experiences, so be yourself,” said VanGilder. “Bring your whole self to work, bring your whole self into whatever you do, and build those experiences. Learn as much as you can along the way and really just embrace all that comes to you.”
Akinkugbe, Chief Excellence Officer for CNX Resources Corporation and 2005 master’s in mining engineering graduate of the Statler College, delivered a speech centered on his journey from Nigeria to West Virginia, and the unexpected turns his career took as he climbed the corporate ladder. His advice to students was to always stay true to yourself, be a problem solver, trust your team and make your interests known as you build your professional network.
“I encourage you to be very open as it relates to what you know,” said Akinkugbe. “Don’t try and fake it until you make it. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and always remember to stay true to who you are.”
Akinkugbe and VanGilder also participated in a mentoring panel where students were able to ask for advice on how to overcome the unique academic and career barriers they experience. Many of the attendees were international students, who relished being able to connect with alumni who could relate to their journeys such as working through a language barrier and finding organizations that support work authorization for immigrants.
“It was quite fascinating to be part of this special event, given the fact that it was student led and coming from their point of view,” Akinkugbe explained. “The students wanted us to directly address questions and concerns that they themselves had, instead of hearing what the faculty thought they might want to know. That was the beauty of this event, getting to connect directly with the students.”
The planning committee chose to end the event with a showcase of culturally diverse hors d’oeuvres and a poster competition where students, organizations and various College departments could highlight their diversity, recent activities, current projects and achievements.
“We were able to see the fruits of our labor through the number of presentations at the poster competition and the overall amount of people who attended the event,” said committee member Amirah Mitchell, a sophomore biomedical engineering student from Navarre, Ohio. “It was fascinating to see all the faculty members and people that took the time out of their busy schedules to come and see what this event was about.”
Nearly 50 organizations and student groups entered the poster competition, which was judged by a panel of alumni. The winning posters included “WVU EcoCAR EV Challenge: DEI” by Morgan Bartley, “Diversity in the NeuroMINT Lab” by Clarus Goldsmith, “Attracting and Cultivating Cybersecurity Experts and Scholars through Scholarships (ACCESS)” by Katilyn Hepler and Steven Navarro, “Stress Analysis of Mini-Screw Assisted Rapid Palatal Expander using Finite-Element Analysis” by Egon Mamboleo, and “Cell and Molecular Biology and Biomedical Engineering Programs” by Olivia Rose.
“I was so impressed with the organization of this event,” said VanGilder. “I love the fact that it was student-led, and you can clearly tell the amount of effort that went into planning this conference. I loved seeing students wearing traditional attire and hearing their stories. The questions we received were intelligent and thoughtful, and really made me think. It was such an amazing experience.”
Additional committee members include Benjamin Akoh and Vitor Gama from the chemical and biomedical engineering department, Samuel Ogunfuye and Joshua Caswell from mechanical and aerospace engineering and Marcela Mera Trujillo from the Lane Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering.
“I am honored to have worked with this group of students,” Dinu said. “They live diversity of experiences and thoughts! They are the best ambassadors of our Statler College. Working alongside them made me see how they inspire transformation, and spark action to make our college an even more inclusive community.”
Contact: Paige Nesbit
Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources
304.293.4135, Paige Nesbit
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