The Center for Engineering Education and Diversity moves to a new, permanent location after 17 years of assisting students.
Have you eaten today?
This is one of the first questions students are asked when they enter the College of Engineering’s Center for Engineering Education and Diversity’s (CEED), located in the Old Rich Research Building next to the Georgia Tech Library. Soft lighting and relaxing music create a comfortable atmosphere for students to visit and talk with one of the office’s many staff members and mentors.
Each year the center works with approximately 4,000 students, helping them with their academic goals and financial needs through a wide variety of programs. However, CEED also focuses on the health and well-being of individual students, asking all who enter their offices if they’ve eaten, how much sleep they’re getting, and if they need a mentor to talk to.
Now, after nearly two full decades, CEED has created a new, permanent space for its students to study, relax, chat, or simply call home.
CEED was established in 2004. In 2007, it evolved into two-person office with Felicia Benton-Johnson and Jacquline Cox in the College of Engineering’s Tech Tower. Since then, it has bounced around campus, in and out of six temporary spaces.
This past October, CEED finally moved into its new home in the Old Rich building. The space was created specifically for the program, allowing the center to better serve its students and act as a home to the many programs it directs. CEED staff members were heavily involved in the design process, from picking the colors to planning the flow of the rooms and placement of the furniture.
“Our goal for this new space is the same as it’s always been in our previous locations: we want to make the center feel like a student’s home away from home where they can get the support they need during their academic journey,” said Benton-Johnson, CEED’s director and an assistant dean in the College.
The space boasts several new amenities and integrates room concepts that existed in previous CEED offices. This includes the “Huddle Room,” a specialized breakout room where groups of students can work on projects while alumni working remotely can set up their workspaces.
CEED’s front desk and waiting room open into a spacious study area, with tables for group work and separate cubicles for more focused, solo studying. Additionally, each of the five staff members has their own office where students can chat with them about anything, whether it be a serious or lighthearted topic.
CEED's Felicia Benton-Johnson and Jackie Strickland talk with guests during the CEED Open House.
“There’s something to be said about walking into a room and seeing people who look and sound like you,” said Valentina De La Fé, CEED’s assistant director of undergraduate initiatives. “There are many study spaces around campus, some probably better than ours. But we want our study rooms to feel uniquely welcoming to underrepresented student groups, anyone looking for a mentor, or even just someone to have a conversation with.”
In addition to the study areas, the new space has a conference room where CEED can host events for some of their many programs. Students can also use the space for important calls, including job or internship interviews.
For Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering student Naomi-Eliana Edouard, CEED has been a perennial gathering spot since transferring to Tech in 2020. She usually stops by to study, socialize, sleep, or utilize the mentorship of the CEED staff.
“CEED is always one of the most comforting places to visit, and everyone in the office contributes to the welcoming atmosphere,” said Edouard, who will graduate this semester. “They have provided me with many diverse perspectives and introduced me to other minority engineers, helping me to grow my network.”
Since its creation in 2004, CEED has expanded to house eight programs that support undergraduate, graduate, and postdoc students from the Colleges of Engineering, Computing, and Sciences. The programs include the NSF-funded Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation, National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering (NACME), Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP), and the GEM Fellowship, a national fellowship that supports underrepresented minority students pursuing their masters or a Ph.D. in engineering or physical sciences and technology.
“Across all programs, our goal is to help expand access for students so they can thrive during their time at Tech,” said Benton-Johnson, who also directs Tech’s engineering transfer partnership programs.
CEED partners with Spelman College, Morehouse College, and Clark Atlanta University, among others, for the Dual Degree Engineering Program, and other University System of Georgia schools for the Regents’ Engineering Pathway Program. These transfer opportunities enable students to diversify their academic journey by experiencing two unique study for two years in a specific Dual Degree institution and then transfer to Tech to complete an engineering degree. CEED supports students before and during their matriculation at the Institute.
In addition to their institutional programs, CEED also hosts the Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) program, Grad REACH mentoring program, and the Retaining Inspirational Students in Technology and Engineering (RISE) Scholarship, which supports more than 200 students.
One of CEED’s largest undergraduate programs is the tiered Peer 2 Peer Mentoring. The program pairs groups of undergraduate students with upper-level undergraduate student aligned with their major and a graduate student.
“Our mentoring approach isn’t just top down, but instead creates a symbiotic relationship between students,” said De La Fé, director of the program. “You need those groups of people coming together and sharing knowledge, because Tech isn’t a place you can get through alone.”
Valentina De La Fé meets with a student.
In addition to directing the Peer 2 Peer Program, De La Fé also manages the College’s undergraduate recruitment efforts, partnering with the Office of Undergraduate Admissions to create and host Engineering Information Sessions and all large scale recruitment events such as Gold Carpet Day.
“Across all programs, our goal is to help expand access for students so they can thrive during their time at Tech."
Nicholas Hines, a graduate research assistant in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering’s Graham Lab, credits CEED’s programs with inspiring him to pursue a career in academia.
“Through my involvement in the dual degree partnership with Morehouse, LSAMP, RISE, GEM Fellowship, and GRAD Reach, CEED has become my community at Georgia Tech,” said Hines. “My goal as an educator is to be able to impact the lives of students the same way CEED has impacted mine.”
The Students, Past and Present
At CEED, everything begins and ends with the students.
“We don’t care who you are or where you come from. If you come in these doors, you’re going to receive love, support, guidance, and whatever you need to succeed,” said Benton-Johnson.
Benton-Johnson says 97% of the students who have participated in CEED programming have gone on to finish their Tech degrees. CEED’s goals, however, are deeper than academics. They also focus on developing self-confidence.
“Working with students and seeing the potential they have is the most important part of my job,” said De La Fé. “When you’re at Tech and surrounded by excellence, sometimes you fail to see it within yourself. It’s my job to help students reflect on their academic journey and realize just how far they’ve come and how far they can go.”
Celine Irvene received three degrees from Tech. She participated in CEED from the time she was a freshman to the day she walked across the stage to receive her Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering in 2021. Now she’s a research software development engineer at Microsoft.
“CEED didn’t just impact my college experience – they forged it,” Irvene said. “Without their support, action, and encouragement, I would have flunked out the first semester of my first year. Many of my fellow Black classmates have similar experiences with CEED.”
Maya Carrasquillo received her bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering from Tech in 2015 before going on to pursue her master’s and Ph.D. at the University of South Florida. She’s now an assistant professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at the University of California, Berkeley. While at Tech, she participated in multiple CEED programs, including LSAMP, SURE, and Peer 2 Peer mentoring.
“As a graduate student, CEED helped me to navigate all the new educational spaces in which I found myself with the same experience and credentials as my peers,” said Carrasquillo. “I credit much of my success to the opportunities and experiences I had through CEED's programs.”
As CEED continues to grow and expand its accessibility to students, it will be able to utilize its new space in the Old Rich Building to help diverse populations of students feel at home at Tech.
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