College of Engineering Assistant Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Paula Rees has announced the 2020–2021 recipients of the college’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Award. “From a pool of truly inspiring nominations,” said Rees, “the two recipients this year are Shelly Peyton and Cielo Sharkus.” Peyton is a professor in the Chemical Engineering (ChE) Department, while Sharkus is a doctoral candidate in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department studying environmental and water resources engineering.
According to Rees, “The purpose of this award is to recognize and reward members of the college community for contributions to increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion of the engineering profession both within and outside of the university. We recognize one individual at the faculty/staff level and one at the undergraduate/graduate student level [each year].”
Among the highlights from Peyton’s nomination materials, “She has used grant funding to institute a very impressive summer research program titled, ‘Engineering the Cell: A Bioengineering Experience for Young Women.’”
In addition, one nominator said that “Every semester Professor Peyton runs a highly popular journal club focused on the impactful recent scientific publications of scientists and engineers of color and from other underrepresented groups. This is pivotal in helping to expand the reach of these investigators and is a tangible way to improve equity.”
Another of Peyton’s accomplishments was serving as the committee co-lead on the ChE DEI Committee, the first such group in the College of Engineering on a departmental level.
“At the university level,” explained another comment from Peyton’s nomination material, “Shelly has contributed to DEI advancement is numerous ways, including leading efforts in federally funded training programs to increase underrepresented-minority representation in UMass graduate programs.”
Among other numerous comments about Peyton’s contributions to DEI, one nominator said, “I recently read that ‘fostering diversity comes down to policies and presence.’ Professor Peyton is proof of the difference one individual can make by committing to using [her] platform to effect change from the local to the institutional levels.”
As Sharkus said about her own approach to spreading DEI in the College of Engineering and beyond, “I want to be a leader by example for both students I mentor and other engineers in the field by amplifying voices that are left out in climate-change planning and environmental engineering.”
One comment from the nomination materials for Sharkus explained that “From my first meeting with her, I learned that Cielo was engaged in a lot of DEI activities, from mentoring at her high school, to her work with the National Society of Black Engineers, to her position on the school committee for the town of Amherst.”
Another nominator noted that a non-profit organization created by Sharkus was doing the work of extending the message of DEI beyond the UMass Amherst campus. “Humans for the Opposition to Pollution and Emissions (H.O.P.E.) is working toward creating community-based structures that meet the needs of disenfranchised community members by addressing environmental inequity through education, research, and project-based learning.”
Among the other nomination comments was this note about the achievements of Sharkus: “She has further been awarded an Agents of Change Fellowship for Science Communication in Environmental Health and a Northeast Climate Adaptation Science Center grant to advance her project on Engineering Justice: Social and Hazard Resilience in a Changing Climate.”
As Rees concluded about these two worthy award-winners, “Please join me in congratulating Dr. Peyton and Ms. Sharkus for this well-deserved acknowledgment of their commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion!” (April 2021)