Sometime last week, I stumbled across a LinkedIn post titled “Boy + General category = no future.” Attached was a first-person-account of the tech industry. A male candidate and a female candidate had taken a coding challenge for a Google Internship. The former scored 200/200 and the latter — the female — scored 5/200. The female was selected. The rant went on: “I saw 100s of posts on LinkedIn where only girls have been shortlisted for further interviews …
This fall, Cornell has announced that freshmen will not be allowed to join engineering project teams.
In the introductory documents offered to project team leads this semester, among all the social distancing and COVID-related measures, was the phrase: “First-year students will not be allowed to join teams this fall.” My first reaction was sadness for the freshmen who will be barred from many of the opportunities for social connection that project teams offer and that coveted sense of belonging that freshmen are usually afforded. But then I remembered a conversation I had with a friend in April, in which she described how her well-regarded project team made the conscious decision to avoid recruiting freshmen, as they had realized it massively skews their demographics toward wealthy, white and Asian men. When trying to recruit through organizations like Under-Represented Minorities in Computing (URMC), they realized almost none of them made it onto their team as freshmen because they tended to lack the opportunities wealth buys which make a good project team candidate. They came to the realization that all of the College of Engineering project team leadership needs to come to: Recruitment for freshmen is based solely on their opportunities prior to Cornell, not the students themselves. Entering your freshman year at Cornell, the disparities between the opportunities afforded to different socioeconomic and racial groups begin glaring apparent.
After 18 years as a faculty member and ten years as Dean of the College of Engineering, Prof. Lance Collins, mechanical and aerospace engineering, will leave Cornell to serve as the executive director of Virginia Tech’s Innovation Campus.
At the beginning of the fall semester, I wrote an article about the gender ratio in the engineering school, and the ways that Cornell’s College of Engineering could better create a more inclusive environment towards women. I received a lot of supportive feedback on the article, but I was particularly struck by the backlash. The comment section of the Facebook post was filled with people who claimed that women, and as they inferred, people of color, were stealing valuable spots from white men who were more “deserving”; namely, they had better grades and more previous experience in engineering. They just couldn’t seem to comprehend why it’s genuinely necessary to have diversity in a field that literally shapes the world a vast majority of the population lives in. Even aside from the obvious ethical and moral necessity of student body diversity at a world-class university like Cornell, diversity is crucial for the future and success of the school.
On the first day of a higher level engineering class I took last semester, the professor, who taught the introductory course, mentioned he read our course evaluations from the previous semester. But after addressing that we had universally complained that his labs were tedious, time consuming and not conducive at all to learning and that we wanted fewer of them, he laughed and said that was too bad, because this class had even more of the same. The TAs for his previous class were never in their office hours because they would walk in at the beginning, see that no one was there and walk out. Another one of my major classes was 75 minutes long and included nothing except the professor droning on at the front of the room while writing on a piece of paper projected on the wall. All of these classes functioned on the old framework of lectures, weekly problem sets and labs.
We’ve all seen wood float and rocks sink in water. This is why boats are usually made of wood and other light materials. But could a boat made out of concrete float? A group of Cornell undergraduates attempt to accomplish that feat every year. Cornell’s concrete canoe — an engineering project team associated with Cornell’s civil and environmental engineering school — strives to create a canoe from concrete for the American Society for Civil Engineers’ annual Upstate New York regional competition.
In the ongoing quest for space exploration, an asteroid base like Magneto’s Asteroid M from the X-Men universe seems like a distant dream. If NASA hopes to replicate the sophisticated structures built on the asteroid, it’s going to need tools. Plenty of them. And there’s one team at Cornell that could certainly engineer a few. Cornell University MicroGravity team, one of Cornell’s newest clubs, is collaborating with NASA to create a ‘Float Sample Grabber’ a device that the team hopes will help astronauts safely and securely retrieve rocks from asteroids.