For Walter Lee, an aspiration to "uncover information that will better inform university efforts to support undergraduate engineering students, particularly students of color," led to his pursuit of a five-year project to better understand how marginalized students navigate undergraduate engineering programs.

This year, Lee was awarded a Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program award from the National Science Foundation for this work.

In order to foster learning environments that empower students to access resources that will lead to their success, universities are making an effort to extend student support toward promoting equity and increasing retention and graduation rates among engineering students. The current lack of diversity in engineering is a catalyst for support that focuses on underrepresented groups, such as Black and Latinx students. At Virginia Tech, this effort is led by the Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Diversity, for which Lee serves as assistant director for research.

According to Lee, prior research work "reveals the need for more responsive student support tailored to individual students' needs." His research will compare support systems and navigational strategies for undergraduate engineering students across multiple institutions and examine students' perspectives on how effective and appropriate different navigational strategies are. Doing so will enable him to examine the responsiveness of university environments.

Walter Lee Guide
Walter Lee with some members of the Growing in Our Understanding of Inclusive Diversity in Engineering Research Group, from left: Janice Hall, Lee, Teirra Holloman, and Cynthia Hampton. Photo by Linda Hazelwood.

“I was excited and honored,” Lee said of receiving the award. “Receiving this support will help my research team continue exploring more effective avenues for promoting equal access to educational resources in undergraduate engineering programs.”

Through this project, Lee hopes that university investments and resources will be used more intentionally to broaden participation in engineering.

The NSF CAREER program is considered one of the most prestigious awards in support of early-career faculty who have the “potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization,” as stated in the program’s description from the NSF.

- Written by Michelle Soledad

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