After two years touring partnering campuses and a virtual version due to the pandemic, the NextProf future faculty program will return to the University of Michigan campus in October 2021. Created to bolster the number of underrepresented minority faculty in the professoriate, NextProf hosts graduate students and postdoctoral scholars from U-M and institutions around the country, connecting them with accomplished engineering professors. The workshops highlight the benefits of academic positions and offer insights on how to get them.
“Diverse teams, if managed properly, yield superior outcomes,” said Alec D. Gallimore, the Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering at U-M and a NextProf co-founder. “What we’re trying to do with NextProf is diversify the engineering field. By having a more diverse collection of professors, we believe we will have more diverse and, frankly, better overall engineering students who are equipped to understand problems from multiple perspectives and who seek to close societal gaps.”
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.
The national program’s annual workshops help attendees understand and navigate an academic career path and expand their professional support system. Three separate workshops now fall under the NextProf brand: NextProf Nexus for advanced PhD students and postdoctoral scholars, NextProf Pathfinder for early-career graduate students and NextProf Engineering for any U-M engineering student or scholar interested in the faculty ranks.
“Fifty percent of our NextProf Nexus alums have continued on academic career paths and 30% have secured faculty positions—and that’s very impressive,” says Lola Eniola-Adefeso, Associate Dean for Graduate & Professional Education, University Diversity and Social Transformation Professor of Chemical Engineering and NextProf leader. “Participants explore what it really means to be a faculty member. They have a chance to interact, ask questions and gain insight from esteemed faculty.”
Recently, U-M’s civil and environmental engineering department announced that NextProf Nexus alum Sabine Loos accepted a position as an assistant professor. She is an emerging leader of the natural hazards engineering field. She applies geospatial modeling, risk analysis, and visualization techniques to develop tools that inform effective and equitable disaster risk reduction and recovery.
“I really don’t think I would have felt like I had the tools to apply without attending NextProf Nexus,” says Loos. “I ended up going back to my notes many times throughout the year as I was preparing my statements, going into the interview, and ultimately, negotiating. I ended up connecting with a few others during the conference who I’ve stayed in touch with during the application process.”
A recent Georgetown University report on diversity in engineering called Mission Not Accomplished speaks to the importance of faculty representation. “Diversity in prestigious occupations such as engineering is important because these jobs pay well and offer great opportunity for upward mobility, and they are an indicator of equality of opportunity in society.
“Starting with recruiting, admission, counseling staff, and, most importantly, faculty, we need to redouble our efforts to make the engineering classroom more welcoming and diverse” the report states.
This fall will be the first time both NextProf Nexus and NextProf Pathfinder programs will be hosted on U-M’s campus as multi-institutional collaborations. This milestone in NextProf history coincides with Michigan Engineering’s approval of plans for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) education for all of the College’s students, staff and faculty. Both the DEI plans and NextProf partnerships are examples of the College’s intent to close—rather than unintentionally expand— societal gaps through an equity-centered engineering framework.
“We are taking these steps because, frankly, we need to require more of our engineers,” said Gallimore, who is also the Richard F. and Eleanor A. Towner Professor, an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, and a professor of aerospace engineering. “Engineering is a people-oriented field and we feel very strongly that, at Michigan Engineering, the job of creating a more diverse, equitable and inclusive community rests not within one organization or group of people, but with all of us. Only in this way can we move the field toward an equity-centered future.”