Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences held a series of events for an annual celebration of diversity in STEM last week.
BRIDGE Week — which stands for Building Relationships, Increasing Diversity, and Growing Engineers — started in 2018 as a partnership between three organizations: the National Society of Black Engineers, Society of Women Engineers, and Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers.
The week’s events came roughly five months after SEAS released results from its 2022 climate survey, which found that roughly 21 percent of respondents said they have experienced harassment or discrimination. The figure was higher for respondents from historically marginalized racial and gender identities.
The survey also found that 36 percent of SEAS affiliates felt “inclusion and belonging” at the school, which was consistent with levels from 2018.
The program kicked off last Monday with an alumni panel featuring Irene Y. Chen ’14, Carter J. Ithier ’14 , Marinna Madrid, Sorell S. Massenburg, and Alice E. White. During the event, the panelists discussed their experiences with diversity and inclusion in their careers and offered advice to attendees.
Madrid — a 2018 alum of Harvard’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and the co-founder of biotechnology startup Cellino — said during the panel that while she found academia to be a “pretty welcoming and open-minded place,” her early experiences in industry were more challenging.
“I’ve been asked what’s different between what we’re doing and what Theranos is doing, when the only thing that’s the same is that we’re both women,” Madrid said.
Madrid said as she gained “clout and influence” in her industry, she was able to stand up for other young entrepreneurial women.
“I can advocate for them. And if I see someone who I think is acting discriminatory, I can let them go,” she said.
Chen, an incoming assistant professor at the University of California, Berkeley, said she feels there is a “tremendous appetite” for understanding the types of problems faced by academia.
“There’s a lot of willingness to help. Maybe they don’t know, necessarily, how to,” Chen said. “There are very real constraints on resourcing and figuring out how to support all of the communities.”
Aside from the panel, this year’s BRIDGE Week also included a senior thesis celebration, a banquet at the Science and Engineering Complex, a student affinity mixer, and a screening of the movie “Coded Bias,” which centers on the discovery of racial bias in facial recognition algorithms.
Edward Alexander Jr. — SEAS’ assistant director of diversity, inclusion, and belonging — lauded the week as a success.
“We definitely wanted to celebrate people who went through Harvard and identified as underrepresented in STEM,” he said. “I think we were able to hear a lot of their great stories, especially as it relates to their journey from where they were, back when they were on campus to now — their career.”
Alexander also praised the efforts of the eight diversity, inclusion, and belonging fellows — composed of undergraduate and graduate students in SEAS — for formulating and organizing the events of the week.
Massenburg, who received his Ph.D. from Harvard in 2016 and spoke on the panel, said in an interview that the event offered a “wide range of experiences” for students to hear from.
“I was very happy to come back today to share some insights and some of the lessons I learned during my time here,” he said.
Giridhar M. Anand, a Ph.D. candidate at SEAS, said the panel was useful in helping him explore options after he completes his program.
“I’m looking to graduate this year and trying to figure out what to do next, and I think it’s very useful to get a global view of all the different opportunities that there are after graduation,” Anand said.
—Staff writer Mert Geyiktepe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.