Inside Rensselaer
* Barbara Ruel
Barbara Ruel

Barbara Ruel Receives
WEPAN Educator Award

Barbara Ruel, director of Rensselaer’s Diversity and Women in Engineering (WIE) programs, has been named the 2011 recipient of the Women in Engineering ProActive Network (WEPAN) Educator Award. The award recognizes Ruel’s exceptional achievement in increasing the participation and retention of women in engineering. It will be presented June 22 at the annual WEPAN conference.

“One of our highest priorities is to attract more women and underrepresented minority students into engineering,” said David Rosowsky, dean of engineering. “Through her hard work, her vast knowledge of the challenges and opportunities in undergraduate education, and her commitment to Rensselaer, Barbara has been responsible for many of the successes we’ve enjoyed in expanding the diversity of our undergraduate population.”

Ruel was nominated by Linda Schadler, professor and associate dean for academic affairs in the School of Engineering. “Barb has created a culture of women mentoring women at Rensselaer, and that’s critical to student retention,” Schadler said. “Through her strong commitment to outreach, Barb also gives younger students their first taste of engineering. Many of those students go on to pursue STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) degree programs at Rensselaer and elsewhere.”

Ruel joined Rensselaer in 1986 and in 2000 became the Institute’s first director of Diversity and WIE. Since then, the retention rate for women has increased about 5 percent, to 96 percent for women who enrolled at Rensselaer in the fall of 2007. In addition, women students now have higher grade point averages than men and hold more leadership positions. For the 2011-2012 academic year, the two most prominent elected student leaders—Grand Marshal and President of the Rensselaer Union—are women. In the incoming class of engineering students, 29 percent are women, up from 24 percent the previous year.

Two of Ruel’s most successful programs are Design Your Future Day (DYFD), which introduces high school girls to STEM careers, and the Women at Rensselaer Mentor Program for first-year students. Although both programs were established before Ruel’s tenure as director, both have been expanded and have flourished under her leadership.

DYFD attracts more than 200 10th- and 11th-grade girls to the Institute every year for activities that showcase opportunities in STEM disciplines. Over the last five years, 30 percent of the students who attended DYFD applied to Rensselaer, and 70 percent of applicants were admitted. Of those, 41 percent—or 88 women—came to Rensselaer as freshmen. Caroline Horizny, of Westchester County, N.Y., is one of those students. She attended DYFD during her sophomore and junior years at Somers High School and enrolled at Rensselaer in the fall of 2010 as a biology major.

“Design Your Future Day played a big role in my decision to come to RPI,” Horizny said. “The activities gave me a perspective that I wouldn’t have gotten on just the usual tour. I really got to explore what RPI had to offer and to make connections with some of the professors. In fact, I stayed in contact with them, and one is my adviser now.”

The Women at Rensselaer Mentor Program invites incoming freshmen to be matched with a peer mentor with similar academic and personal interests. Monthly social and professional development events foster a sense of community and provide opportunities to network, share information, and meet female graduate students and professionals.

When Ruel began as director, the monthly events attracted 20 to 40 women. Today, that number has more than quadrupled, largely because of changes implemented under Ruel’s leadership. Chief among them is a student-led board that plans events and provides mentors with tips on sustaining the mentor/mentee partnership.

Stephanie Livsey ’10 served on the student board for two years, helping to plan networking events. This spring, Livsey returned to Rensselaer as an alumna to lead a DYFD session about embedded controls. She also discussed her experiences at BAE Systems, where she is in the Engineering Leadership Development Program.

“In many ways, Barb was a mentor to me, and that mentoring extended beyond engineering. She was someone to turn to with questions and for advice,” Livsey said. “I know what the mentoring experience meant to me, and I want to provide that for other young women?to open their eyes to the opportunities in engineering in general and at RPI in particular.”

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Inside Rensselaer
Volume 5, Number 11, June 17, 2011
©2011 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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