Bevlee Watford, a Virginia Tech faculty member since 1992, has been selected by President Joe Biden to serve on the National Science Board, according to a White House statement.

Watford, the associate dean for equity and engagement for the university’s College of Engineering, will be the first Virginia Tech faculty member to serve on the board since President Emeritus T. Marshall Hahn, who was appointed in 1972.

“Bevlee is a pioneer in engineering education, having transformed the College of Engineering’s approach to student engagement and retention, and will bring valuable perspective to the board,” said Virginia Tech President Tim Sands. “This appointment is a testament to her expertise and a high honor for her and Virginia Tech.”

The National Science Board oversees the National Science Foundation and advises the president and Congress on policy matters related to science and engineering as well as education in those fields. Biden’s 2023 appointments establish a 24-member board made up of 10 women, three Black scientists, and three Latino scientists, making it the most diverse National Science Board in U.S. history.

Watford, as founding executive director of the Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Diversity (CEED), has helped shape diversity and inclusion initiatives in the College of Engineering since 1992. CEED’s strategies – such as pre-college and K-12 STEM programs, living-learning communities, and peer mentoring – have made significant impacts on the college’s enrollment, retention, and graduation rates, particularly of underrepresented students.

In 2010, CEED received the Claire Felbinger Diversity Award from ABET for developing programs to encourage and support diversity in engineering. The following year, the center earned the National Society of Black Engineers-ExxonMobil Impact award for successfully boosting student retention. In 2019, the College of Engineering received bronze exemplar status in the American Society for Engineering Education Deans Diversity Recognition program for its progress toward diversity, inclusion, and retention.

“For decades, Bev has strengthened and led our college community with vision and energy. Through her efforts, we are able to provide valuable support for our engineering students, faculty, and staff,” said Julia M. Ross, the Paul and Dorothea Torgersen Dean of Engineering. “Her national leadership has already had tremendous impact on the engineering discipline. I know she will do great things for the country in this new role.”

Watford has deep ties to the Virginia Tech community in addition to being the first Black woman promoted to professor in the College of Engineering. As a triple Hokie, Watford earned her three engineering degrees – bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral – from the university in the 1980s. In August, she became the first Black woman to be inducted into the Virginia Tech Academy of Engineering Excellence.

Her innovative techniques in engineering education have been recognized by numerous organizations. In 2004, Watford helped secure a $2 million, five-year grant from the National Science Foundation to help expand the college’s mentoring and retention programs. To date, Watford has improved student programming through CEED and other initiatives by securing more than $17 million in funding.  

After being named a fellow in the American Society of Engineering Education in 2010, she became the organization’s first African American female president, serving from 2017-18. And last year, she received the 2022 Black Engineer of the Year award for Educational Leadership.

Watford has managed programs and funding proposals for several education divisions within the National Science Foundation over her career. She recalled attending National Science Board meetings during this time and being struck by the scholarly expertise of the board members as they discussed new initiatives and changing policies.

“I recall thinking, this is where the real decisions are made,” said Watford. “The board collectively had the ability to set the policies that guided our work and decisions. I never expected to be in one of those chairs myself. I am profoundly grateful to have been nominated and selected, and I hope I can have a positive impact.”

Watford’s six-year term on the board will run through May 2028.

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