Electrical engineering major Tavian Vassar ’20 in the Maker-E space. Photo: Emily Paine

The College of Engineering enrolls a diverse group of students, but hasn’t always retained them. Through efforts such as the Engineering Success Alliance (ESA), Bucknell is offering strong support for women, persons of color and first-generation students seeking to enter the field.

“Even the students we were retaining, to a certain extent, had more of an experience of getting by, which isn’t where we want to be,” says Jason Milner, director of the ESA. “We want students to go from surviving to thriving — so supporting engineering students to thrive and come out of school ready to succeed is the goal.”

Diversifying any field requires innovative thinking, and Kleinfelder CEO George Pierson ’84 is a strong advocate for expanding the pool of graduates in the engineering profession. “To remain competitive, we must draw students of all backgrounds into engineering fields,” says Pierson, who co-chairs the ESA Alumni Advisory Committee.

Since 2010, the ESA has invited incoming students who are underrepresented in engineering to join a cohort to build academic self-efficacy and a sense of belonging in the engineering community, as well as balancing academics, social life and personal needs.

ESA students use academic resources on campus, do service outreach, make internship and career connections with alumni, and explore business etiquette and graduate school paths, all while supporting one another. Milner says that linking them with resources is key because many are used to going it alone. “ESA works to help students understand what resources are available and how to use them in the same way many of their peers are already doing,” he says.

Each 20-student cohort starts with a preorientation program where students learn about campus resources, take physics, engineering and math courses, and get to know one another. ESA alumna Jessica Brito ’16, who co-led the orientation program, loves giving back. “Through my time in the program, I tutored, mentored and made some of my closest friends,” she says. “I found companions to struggle through thermodynamics with me and laugh through senior design.” Now a management consultant in PwC’s health industries advisory practice, she is the ESA alumni liaison, connecting current students with program graduates.

Tavian Vassar ’20, pictured above, who grew up aspiring to become an engineer, says that ESA has been one of the most important aspects of his Bucknell experience. “ESA has been directly involved with my successes as an engineering student and provided a critical opportunity for me to grow alongside other aspiring engineers,” he says. “We have all bonded as a diverse group of people as well as a union of engineers. I can say, without a doubt, that I would not have become the professional, grounded scholar that I am at Bucknell if it were not for the full support and experience I have received from ESA.”