Throughout the University of Virginia School of Engineering, “Diversity is Excellence” is a phrase posted in hallways and common areas. The mantra reminds students, faculty, staff and visitors about the School’s core value that excellence expresses itself through every person’s perspectives and lived experiences. UVA Engineering strives for an inclusive culture.
But that core value doesn’t end with the UVA Engineering community in Charlottesville.
In recent months, engineering alumni have made sizable investments in the School’s diversity initiatives, increasing UVA Engineering’s capacity to recruit and nurture engineering students from backgrounds traditionally underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and math, such as Black and Hispanic students, women and students who are the first in their families to attend college.
Alan Cline, a 1994 systems engineering graduate, and his wife Michelle, are supporting the Center for Diversity in Engineering, which connects students from underrepresented backgrounds with valuable resources to excel at UVA and beyond.
“Throughout my career, I’ve always had a passion for helping people become their best selves,” Cline said. “In that vein, ensuring that UVA Engineering students from all backgrounds have the tools to succeed is very important to me.”
A portion of the Clines’ support will help the center’s summer Bridge Program, a free, three-week introduction to Grounds that gives incoming first-year students from underrepresented groups academic support, advising, resources and opportunities to build relationships with each other and faculty, easing their transition to UVA. Thanks to Cline’s generosity, the center will be able to offer more learning and activities for students during Bridge.
“Data shows that students who participate in the Bridge Program have a smoother, more successful transition into UVA Engineering, which leads to greater confidence and empowerment to excel academically and socially,” James Bland, director of the Center for Diversity in Engineering, said. “We have long wanted to expand the programming offered by the Bridge Program, and Alan and Michelle Cline’s gift makes that possible now. His generosity will change students’ lives for the better.”
Jane Rudolph, a 1984 electrical engineering graduate, and her husband Sid Rudolph, who earned his electrical engineering degrees in 1978 and 1981, also wanted to leave their legacy with the School by providing a path for Virginia students from backgrounds underrepresented in engineering to become the next generation of UVA engineers.
Through an endowed gift , they created the Jane and Sid Rudolph University Achievement Award Fund, a scholarship that will play a critical role in adding diversity to the student population. The scholarships cover all tuition and fees and will be given to students from Virginia who demonstrate outstanding leadership and character while overcoming personal hardship. The Rudolphs also plan to support the scholarship fund through their estate in the future.
“As a member of the Board of Trustees, I’m fortunate that I often get to hear the stories and successes of engineering students from a variety of backgrounds,” Jane Rudolph said. “With this scholarship, Sid and I want to ensure that more students are given the opportunity to bring their unique perspectives into our community.”
The recent contributions from alumni are building upon what has been an area of significant long-term investments for the School. Among them: The Center for Diversity in Engineering completed a renovation and expansion in 2020; a search for a new associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion is underway; and the School is in the early stages of discussing and implementing recommendations that are an outgrowth of the University’s Racial Equity Task Force. In addition, UVA Engineering is preparing to welcome its fourth cohort of incoming first-year students as part of the A. James Clark Scholars Program, established through support from the A. James and Alice B. Clark Foundation. The program provides unique educational and financial opportunities to exceptional students from populations traditionally underserved in STEM.
UVA Engineering’s efforts led to the School in 2019 being named among the first in the country to earn a bronze award from the American Society for Engineering Education’s Diversity Recognition Program.
Looking to the future, the School recently announced plans to fund the Center for Diversity in Engineering’s summer Bridge program in perpetuity with a $3 million endowment. This bold initiative is fueled by the momentum from the recent investments by generous alumni.
"We believe people of many different talents and points of view will be required to find solutions to humanity’s increasingly complex challenges, and we are committed to creating an environment that allows every person to feel valued, supported and successful,” UVA Engineering Dean Craig H. Benson said. “I am grateful to our alumni for sharing our core value that diversity is excellence and contributing so generously to multiply our efforts.”