Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion within TexASCE
by Travis N. Attanasio PE, CFM
ASCE Texas Section President 2023
The Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee for the ASCE Texas Section falls under the responsibility of the Section President. I reached out to members of the Committee with the following questions:
- What is your definition of diversity? How do you encourage people to honor the uniqueness of each individual?
- What diversity challenges do you face in your current (or last) job?
- What steps have you taken at your current (or last) employer to create an inclusive work or learning environment?
- Any other insights you would like to share?
A selection of the answers I received are as follows:
The definition of diversity starts with oneness. We all have been unique in our backgrounds, environments, skill sets, etc. Every oneness comes together to make it a wholeness that makes itself unique as diversity.
One of the biggest diversity challenges in my current and previous jobs is communications and accessibility. Technologies and laws have been coming a long way to provide various accommodations for engineers with disabilities to be part of wholeness in the engineering world. Still, there aren’t many deaf civil engineers out there. Another challenge for a disabled person in engineering is limited networking with peers with similar disabilities.
My company has gone beyond to accommodate my work environment and help me be part of the engineering family with accessibility in communications by providing interpreters in various meetings and videophones. My team has been accustomed to a workflow that has been very efficient together. They always encourage and support me to expand my capabilities and knowledge in the engineering world to make my profession stand out. One of those insights I want to share with people is that deaf engineers have a unique perspective in the engineering world through communications, accessibilities, and designs that are often overlooked by others. In other words, one’s weaknesses are another’s strengths.
My interaction with different cultures started very early in my life. I grew up on a small village in Sri Lanka and attended my undergraduate in the University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka. Representing a minority community in Sri Lanka, I am fully aware on the need for more tolerance and social acceptance among various cultural and ethnical groups. For my graduate studies, initially, I went to England and completed my Masters and then moved to USA for my PhD. From very early days while growing up with different cultures from my own, helped me to value and appreciate both commonalities and differences in various cultures. I was fortunate enough to spend my student life in three different countries, which was later instrumental in shaping my values and worldview. As a future educator, I am fully committed on advancing diversity. I describe below my current and proposed efforts in advancing diversity.
During my graduate studies in New Mexico State University (NMSU), I participated in several outreach activities. I contributed as a mentor for two years in NMSU’s Alliance for Minority Participation (AMP) program. Also I have served as a mentor in NMSU’s Summer Community College Opportunity in Research Experience (SCCORE) program for two years (10 weeks in summer). This program especially emphasizes students from historically underrepresented groups in STEM: African Americans, Alaskan Natives, American Indians, Hispanic Americans, and Native Pacific Islanders. One of the student I mentored during 2014 started her Bachelors in Civil Engineering at NMSU.
I served as Program Coordinator and Mentor in NSF’s Young Scholar Program at NMSU. Under this program, we invite high Scholl students to participate in Research activities in NMSU during each summer. Special interest was given to female students and minority students. One student has developed immense curiosity about the subject; she presented her work in the 2015 White House Science Fair, and won the 2015 Teen Choice Pro-Social Honorees award. The student has entered STEM career by joining as undergraduate in Yale University. Also I have served as Diversity board member in NSF’s Engineering Research Center for Re-inventing the Nation’s Urban Water Infrastructure (ReNUWIt).
As an Educator, I am keen on working with the campus to expand “Hands-on” research-based outreach to K-12 teachers from high minority middle/high schools. With the help from my institution, I am planning to recruit an educator each year to work for the summer in my lab, to develop new ideas and strategies to advance their curriculum
Diversity always comes with equality. True diversity allows people with different ethnic backgrounds, genders, and sexual orientations to be equally exposed to opportunities instead of taking advantage to underestimate their ability by personal/social bias.
As an Asian female, I always show up at different events and get used to being the only Asian female engineer. It’s never comfortable, but I think this is the first step to letting more people know there are people with different ethics and willing to promote diversity. I also enjoy the opportunity to learn about others’ uniqueness in the events. I have been fortunate to meet so many people who respect each other culture.
In my current job and the whole engineering industry, female engineers are far fewer than male engineers.
I am the Engineering ambassador at school. I share my story with the potential students and their family how Asian females study engineering.
Since my career as a civil engineer, I have volunteered for numerous organizations that promote diversity and equality. I shared my volunteer stories with my coworkers/employers, which gave them more exposure to diversity and more people interested in being involved in those organizations. And eventually, we become more comfortable, efficient, and happier working with people with diverse backgrounds. Diversity is just about ethics or the color of people, it can also be the different personalities of people who might have the same ethics or gender. Diversity for me is having an open mind to diverse people, respecting their uniqueness, and giving them the opportunity to present their talents. I believe this always turns out to be a win-win. As a result, everyone can learn from others and make an impact instead of building ego on something we don’t understand and consciously underestimating others’ capabilities with bias.
Diversity is just about ethics or the color of people, it can also be the different personalities of people who might have the same ethics or gender. Diversity for me is having an open mind to diverse people, respecting their uniqueness, and giving them the opportunity to present their talents. I believe this always turns out to be a win-win. As a result, everyone can learn from others and make an impact instead of building ego on something we don’t understand and consciously underestimating others’ capabilities with bias.
Interested in serving or leading as a Co-Chair?
Contact Section President Travis Attanasio at [email protected].
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