The recipients of the 2022 College of Engineering Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Award are Jay Taneja, assistant professor in the Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) Department, and Rebecca Louisthelmy, a graduating senior in the Biomedical Engineering (BME) Department. The college celebrated their commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion during the Annual DEI Celebration on April 21 in the Gunness Student Center.
Taneja’s contributions to DEI are particularly notable for their breadth of impact. His research lab at present consists of eight Ph.D. students and one full-time staff member, eight of whom are from underrepresented groups in STEM. Seven are African and four are women.
Taneja has also worked with two M.S. students (both underrepresented) and eight undergraduate students (two are underrepresented).
In addition, Taneja has helped to recruit students from underrepresented backgrounds to seven other faculty research groups at UMass and designed two classes that aim to add elements of diversity into the ECE curriculum.
Through Taneja’s research funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, he is working with a consortium of five universities and other organizations to provide internships and deliver training programs on data and analytics supporting the electricity sector in Africa.
As one of his many other DEI activities, Taneja advocated to college leadership for fellowships for deserving students from underrepresented minority backgrounds who were not selected to receive Spaulding-Smith Fellowships. His efforts resulted in the College of Engineering Diversity Fellowship Program.
As Taneja has explained, “I recognize that, as a professor, the most valuable commodity I have to offer is my time, and I work hard to allocate my time towards mentorship of underrepresented students whenever possible.”
Meanwhile, Louisthelmy, as a BME undergraduate, is a true leader and uses her many platforms at UMass and beyond to engage the community for positive change. For instance, she is the president of three campus groups: the UMass Black Student Union, the UMass Cultural Council, and the UMass STEM Ambassadors Program.
Louisthelmy also serves as the Undergraduate Program Coordinator for the Student Bridges Agency, a non-profit focused on access and success of traditionally underrepresented minorities at UMass.
All this extracurricular work has not impaired Louisthelmy’s academics, as evidenced by the fact that in 2021 she was named a UMass Rising Researcher for her work in the lab of BME Assistant Professor Chase Cornelison.
As a first-generation Haitian-American and low income student, Louisthelmy has juggled four to five jobs while being a full-time student in a highly demanding major. In spite of these challenges, she has consistently used her voice and position to push for change that benefits both current and future UMass students.
As Louisthelmy explains the background of her DEI dedication, “My circumstances forced me early on to become resilient, adaptable, and powerful. I am committed to addressing issues of access, diversity, equity, and inclusion in STEM education and research.”
Louisthelmy will be pursuing a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering at the University of Maryland in the fall.