Ronald Rousseau and William Wepfer Honored for Leadership in Diversity

School Chairs Ronald Rousseau and William Wepfer received 2012 Georgia Tech College of Engineering ADVANCE Leadership Awards in recognition of their commitment to the values of equity, diversity, excellence, and advancement of faculty.

William J. Wepfer
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William J. Wepfer
Eugene C. Gwaltney Jr. School Chair
Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering

Established in 2001 by the National Science Foundation, the Increasing the Participation and Advancement of Women in Academic Science and Engineering Careers (ADVANCE) Program addresses the continued need to develop a more diverse science and engineering workforce through funding systemic approaches to increase the representation and advancement of women in academic science and engineering careers. Georgia Tech was one of nine universities to receive initial funding for the program.

Although the percentages of women in engineering have increased in the last several decades, men continue to dominate the profession. According to data compiled by the Society of Women Engineers in 2003, approximately 80 percent of new engineers were men, compared with only 20 percent who were women.

As the chair of the School of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering for the past 25 years, Rousseau has demonstrated sustained support, mentoring, and retention of women faculty. The ADVANCE Leadership Award recognizes his commitment to creating a climate of collegiality, inclusiveness, and excellence. Under his leadership, the school has hired eleven female tenure-track professors. Ten of the eleven are still faculty members in the school, out of a total of 38 faculty members with majority appointments.

Out of the eleven female faculty members hired by Rousseau, Dr. Mary Rezac is the only one no longer at the Institute. After leaving Georgia Tech in 2001 to serve as department chair at Kansas State University, she engaged Rousseau to serve as her mentor under the ADVANCE Program at Kansas State and credits much of her own success as a leader to the mentoring he provided. “His candor, support, and guidance were invaluable for me as I transitioned from faculty member to administrator,” Rezac says. “His actions have had a direct and positive impact on many people, including, in a very profound way, on me.”

“I’m now in my eighteenth year as an academic faculty member and have had the opportunity to interact with faculty and administrators from some of the finest institutions in the country,” Rezac says. “With this sense of perspective, I can say without hesitation that through his innovation, dedication, and compassion, Dr. Rousseau has created an environment within Georgia Tech’s School of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering that nurtures a diverse population of faculty and students.”

Although Wepfer has served as the chair of the Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering for only five years, he played a significant role early in his tenure at Georgia Tech through his efforts to initiate the FOCUS program on campus. Launched in 1992, the program seeks to increase the number of master’s and doctoral degrees awarded to underrepresented minorities at Georgia Tech. The FOCUS program has been so successful that it now serves as model for similar programs implemented at other premier institutions nationwide.

The ADVANCE Leadership Award recognizes Wepfer’s consistent dedication to diversity on campus, which has continued through his leadership as school chair. Since taking the helm of the Woodruff School, he initiated a successful program for actively recruiting female faculty members that brings rising-star women to campus to give seminars. Of the nine women faculty members in the school, seven effectively began under Wepfer’s leadership. Additionally, Wepfer implemented a policy to support the success of all assistant mechanical engineering professors that reduces their teaching loads and brings transparency to the process.

As the newest faculty member in the Woodruff School, Dr. Susan Thomas has benefited directly from Wepfer’s commitment to enhancing diversity. “In my short time here, he has already organized multiple social events for untenured and female faculty, allowing us to come together to network as a group, as well as touch base with him,” she says. “Everyone talks about Dr. Wepfer making the school a great place to work—and I couldn’t agree more. Despite his enormous responsibilities to a large faculty with more than 90 members, he consistently takes time to make personal contact with me to ensure that I have what I need to succeed.”

Thomas came to Georgia Tech as an assistant professor in fall 2011 after completing a postdoctoral appointment at École Polytechnique Fédéral de Lausanne in Switzerland. She cites Wepfer’s enthusiasm and dedication to enhancing diversity within the Woodruff school as instrumental to its current and continued success. “His enthusiasm, forthrightness, and support are invaluable to me as I transition into my faculty position,” Thomas says.

In 2007, Georgia Tech incorporated the ADVANCE Program as a formal Institute initiative and continues the mission of transforming and equalizing the representation of women in science and engineering. While focusing on programs that benefit all faculty members, ADVANCE also addresses some of the most significant barriers for women. Over the years, major initiatives have included on-site daycare and clarification of promotion and tenure policies.

Established in 1901, the School of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering (ChBE) is one of eight schools in the College of Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Ranked among the top ten engineering programs in the nation, the school is also one of the oldest and most diverse programs. With 800 undergraduates, 200 graduate students, and more than 40 full-time faculty members, it is also one of the largest. ChBE faculty members are involved in 13 comprehensive areas of education, research, and commercialization with a strategic focus on energy and sustainability, biotechnology, materials and nanotechnology, and complex systems.