Better Together fund celebrates diverse voices
Becoming an effective problem solver is fundamental to any engineering degree. For alumna Melissa Carrier ’95, it’s the most valuable lesson she gained during her time as a chemical engineering student at The Ohio State University.
Today, Carrier develops innovation programs for college students and faculty, utilizing her engineering skills every day.
“I gained the confidence to ask insightful questions when I don't understand something and to be able to connect the dots across different systems that I'm asked to think about in my work, which has been a powerful skill,” said Carrier, who is director of social innovation at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She’s also a professor of practice of public policy and co-founder of Radiate Works, a boutique consultancy that helps companies realize their impact potential through self-study and creative design.
“While I don't work in any of the industries that we typically train chemical engineers to go into, my engineering mindset and approach is fundamental to everything I do,” she said.
That perspective and drive to solve complex problems motivated Carrier to establish the Better Together Fund at her alma mater, which supports diversity, equity and inclusion efforts within the William G. Lowrie Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (CBE). She was inspired by a conversation with her best friend’s daughter, who recently graduated with an engineering degree from another institution.
“She told me there still weren’t enough people that looked like her in the classroom. And that got me thinking about what I wanted to do with this philanthropic gift,” Carrier said. “I thought, if my children and my friends’ children are still having to fight for seats at the table, or still having to have conversations on what it means to be a woman or a person of color in engineering, we have not done enough yet.”
The goal of the Better Together Fund is to pilot and grow initiatives that help create a greater sense of belonging, honoring and celebrating differences, and enriching the diversity of the entire CBE department. The funds can be used to support student workers, events, programming and conference speakers, and other efforts that support diversity initiatives.
“Better Together is about everybody being able to see themselves in that particular field of work. As a young person, I always looked for and admired others that looked like me doing the work I wanted to do,” said Carrier, who remembers feeling emboldened in high school when she finally had a female physics teacher. “If we want to solve problems with more effective solutions, we’re going to have to bring more diverse views to the table. This fund is one way to create space for those important conversations.”
Carrier’s vision is already coming to fruition. The fund is being used to sponsor the inaugural Women in Engineering Leadership Symposium on November 2-3 at Ohio State. Hosted by the CBE department, the student-led symposium will feature graduate school recruiting and networking, small group discussions facilitated by Buckeye Engineering Women in Executive Leadership (BEWEL) members, wellness resources for students and postdocs, and a keynote address by North Carolina State University Professor Christine Grant, president of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers.
The event’s lead organizer is Anjali Tewari, a fifth-year chemical engineering student. Not only is she spearheading the planning of the event along with her advisor, Professor Jessica Winter, Tewari promoted the Better Together Fund as a member of Ohio State’s 2022 Homecoming Court. Each court member was asked to select a philanthropic cause to support and raise awareness.
“I am passionate about facilitating safe space discussions for my peers and encouraging them to connect with resources that would help advance their advocacy and professional development skills,” said Tewari. “As this is the first year that we are using the Better Together Fund to drive women empowerment initiatives at such a large scale, I can only see opportunities to move forward. Melissa’s contributions have allowed us to plan well and take care of our guests in addition to facilitating a safe space and learning environment for students, staff and faculty.”
For Carrier, seeing her gift turn into something tangible so quickly is thrilling, and she views it as just the beginning, with hopes that other donors are inspired to contribute.
“My gift is seed capital to kickstart a movement that gets people excited about what's possible when we intentionally fund our collective community,” she said. “The Better Together Fund starts with events and conversation, and can move forward to creating spaces for career exploration for students, for solving problems through innovative curriculum—there are so many interesting places a fund like this can go with student and alumni engagement.”
“The reason we wanted to name it ‘Better Together’ was to recognize that this is about everyone in our CBE community finding their place,” she continued. “Let's celebrate the unique contributions and lived experiences that we each bring to the field of chemical engineering, and know that when we're at the table together, we have the power to make really good work happen.”
Make a gift to the Better Together Fund.
by Meggie Biss, College of Engineering Communications | firstname.lastname@example.org