Biomedical Engineering Society Mentorship ProgramEstimated Amount to be requested from the CSF: $5,000
Letter of Intent:
Dear CSF Committee,
We are the Biomedical Engineering Society at the University of Washington, and we are writing to express our desire to obtain the support of the Campus Sustainability Fund to fund our novel mentorship program centered around educational equity. Our mentorship program aims to not only create a mentorship ecosystem centered around underserved and underrepresented communities, but also aims to increase awareness of equity issues throughout society.
The main goal of our mentorship program is to give prospective first and second-year engineering students, especially those from underrepresented communities, equitable access to opportunities at UW by pairing them with a junior or senior in the bioengineering department. Through our recruitment process, we tabled at large-scale events such as the 1000+ person Engineering Launch and also reached out to identity groups such as the Engineering Dean’s Scholars Program. Programs like these specifically provide academic support to engineering students from low-income neighborhoods, which is the same demographic that our mentorship program aims to support.
Data from Autumn 2021 indicate that within the College of Engineering, women and underrepresented minorities only constitute 30% and 13% respectively of all BS degree recipients, and they only make up 22% and 6% of all PhD degree recipients. Oftentimes, students from these backgrounds are systematically barred from opportunities that prepare and enable them to pursue a career in engineering due to a number of factors. For example, women were traditionally discouraged from a career in STEM because of deeply-rooted gender expectations (Xu, 2017). Underrepresented populations often coincide with socioeconomically disadvantaged populations, and students are subsequently raised in neighborhoods that simply lack the institutions that can provide professional development opportunities. From a pool of 50+ mentee applicants, our committee of four diverse BMES officers across all three bioengineering cohorts hand-picked over 30 mentees hailing from underserved and underrepresented communities. Through this selection process, we not only aimed to increase future representation of these communities in the Department of Bioengineering, but also throughout the College of Engineering as a whole. Through our year-long mentorship program, mentees have biweekly meetings with their paired mentors, and will gain their mentors’ perspectives into engineering major placement, bioengineering research, and extracurricular leadership. These are all areas that have traditionally favored students of higher income strata. Socioeconomically advantaged students are more likely to afford and hire private tutors or counselors that support students in their coursework as well as career planning decisions. They also enjoy the privilege of a broader selection of research opportunities to choose from, whether or not they are paid or volunteer-based, whereas their socioeconomically disadvantaged counterparts have to worry about securing an income to sustain themselves and can thus only consider paid opportunities, which are already rare and more competitive to begin with. Therefore, our goal is to provide students of lower income brackets and underserved communities with these same educational enrichment opportunities as their peers free-of-charge and to enhance their careers in bioengineering, competitiveness for research opportunities, and leadership potential in the future. Through these mentorship pairings, we also hope to spread awareness of equity issues such as environmental equity throughout the bioengineering department.
Leadership and Student Involvement:
The BMES Mentorship Program is completely driven and run by students passionate about enhancing the accessibility of selective engineering majors to underrepresented student bodies. The program is primarily led by the Mentorship Chair, President, and VP of Community Engagement of BMES at UW. The other 14 BMES officers provide assistance accordingly along with professional development, outreach, and wellness programs to our mentors and mentees. We created this program over the summer and have since been involved in driving the program and seeking partnerships with other organizations to broaden the reach and impact of our mentorship program to other departments. As of November, we currently have over 50 mentors and mentees, with over 20 more mentees on our waitlist. Mentors consist of third- and fourth-year undergraduate bioengineering students with diverse academic, socioeconomic, and cultural backgrounds, as well as career aspirations. The mentees consist of first- and second-year undergraduate pre-engineering and pre-major students from similarly diverse backgrounds mentioned above. Our leadership team provides these students with a wide variety of enrichment opportunities by leveraging our network with other BioE-related student organizations such as BioEngage, BioE Justice Equity Diversity Inclusivity (JEDI) Committee, and Bioengineers without Borders. Our faculty advisor, Dr. Wendy Thomas, also helped us tailor our mentor/mentee selection process to specifically reach and serve underrepresented student populations. The JEDI committee that she chairs is also working closely with us to integrate our mentorship program into a larger mentorship ecosystem within the Department of Bioengineering, including monthly informal “Coffee Chats” with bioengineering faculty, industry and research-based mentorship, and graduate student mentorship within the department.
Education, Outreach, and Behavior Change:
The mentorship program fulfills both the educational and outreach components through a cohesive combination of discussion prompts and large-scale events. Every month, the BMES and graduate JEDI committee create a monthly list of 10 discussion prompts centered around both educational and equity themes. For example, themes such as “Dead Week December” (finals) and “No-Reply November” (research/internships) these past few months have provided light-hearted guidance for mentors and mentees alike about academic-related topics that are of high priority to them. Simultaneously, themes such as “(Environmental) Justice January” (environmental justice) and “Fairness February” (equity in education) help to build up a more aware and understanding community about current issues in social and environmental sustainability. Through our emphasis on environmental justice, we hope to not only spread awareness, but also allow for mentors and mentees to take direct action for environmental justice by empowering them to make the bioengineering department and other engineering departments more sustainable for future research.
Through the discussion guide that we will be sending out at the beginning of each month, we will include prompts about the dire environmental issues that biomedical research generates; for example, the overreliance on single-use, disposable plastics (such as pipette tips) that are responsible for 5.5 million tonnes of plastic waste in 2014 (Urbina, Watts & Reardon, 2015). Besides plastic waste, laboratories also produce infectious, cytotoxic, and radioactive waste that end up in landfills and incinerators, which then contaminate water sources and release heavy metals and other toxic particles into the air (World Health Organization, 2018), which disproportionately impacts minorities and underserved communities. Mentors and mentees will be encouraged to discuss these current issues, brainstorm potential solutions, and connect with leaders on or beyond campus that tackle these issues. Some of the funds will be spent on hiring and paying students who are passionate about environmental issues to create informative and illustrative visual-audio presentations and also compile a database of contacts that students can reach out to should they want to pursue this direction even further. Through these one-on-one discussions between mentors and mentees, we hope to foster an active approach to tackling environmental justice and sustainability within bioengineering and throughout the College of Engineering.
In addition to one-on-one discussions between mentors and mentees, we also plan to use our budget to schedule program-wide guest speaker events for group networking and awareness across participants of our mentorship program. These events will host environmental justice educators and other prominent figures in higher education, and will be held in conjunction with current events such as the BMES/JEDI “Coffee Chat” series focused on informal mentorship with bioengineering faculty members. For example, Dr. Kelly Stevens hosted our November “Coffee Chat” and covered the topics of inclusivity and diversity in our communities. As such, bringing in prominent environmental justice proponents will help to not only supplement this informal networking between mentors, mentees, and experts in the field, but will also spread awareness of current environmental justice initiatives that they can apply their knowledge of bioengineering toward in the near future.
Feasibility and Accountability
As part of BMES, we have a diverse team of 17 officers that work together to support initiatives like the BMES Mentorship Program. With the support of this established leadership structure, as well as our affiliation with the national BMES program, we believe that we have the networking necessary to build a diverse and effective coalition of bioengineers for both educational and environmental justice. In addition, our close collaborators in the graduate JEDI committee and meetings with Dr. Wendy Thomas have helped to establish a broader view of our long-term impacts across the university. We meet with the JEDI committee every month, something that helps us with not only our financial outcomes and budgeting goals, but also our goals with growing our program across the College of Engineering as well. We aim to expand this mentorship program to different engineering departments and we believe that our own networks, such as the Engineering Peer Educator Program, the General Studies 199 class, and our close collaboration with the BMES Outreach Program are key cornerstones to this plan.
Similar to our expansion plan, we also believe that our experienced financial team has the capability to manage and organize a budget necessary for this plan. The current Treasurer of BMES at UW works closely with Elizabeth Mounce, the current Fiscal Specialist Supervisor of the UW Bioengineering Department, to track and manage our spending throughout the year. In addition, our current treasurer has held multiple treasurer positions in the past, managing annual budgets of over $400,000 in the past. Combined with the oversight from our faculty and graduate student collaborators, we believe that we will be able to manage funds granted to us both efficiently and responsibly.
Health-care waste. (n.d.). WHO | World Health Organization. Retrieved November 15, 2021, from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/health-care-waste
Urbina, M., Watts, A. & Reardon, E. Labs should cut plastic waste too. Nature 528, 479 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1038/528479c
Xu YJ. Attrition of Women in STEM. Journal of Career Development. 2017;44(1):3-19. doi:10.1177/0894845316633787