In addition to being an ECE professor, Liesl Folks is senior vice president for academic affairs and provost at the University of Arizona. Along with AME professor of practice Betsy Cantwell, who serves as senior vice president of research and innovation, she represents engineering in the university's senior leadership offices. The two, whose leadership has been especially critical during the pandemic, see big growth potential for the College of Engineering.
“If you look at how extraordinary our science enterprise is, it’s an obvious next step for engineering to be amped up to meet the needs of the state and the nation,” Folks said.
The women’s careers span decades in academia and industry as researchers, administrators and leaders. A year marked by unprecedented challenges has made the solutions-driven mindsets of engineers especially essential, according to Cantwell.
“Faculty and students in the College of Engineering are critical to reimagining and reworking how we operate on campus and in every aspect of our lives,” said Cantwell, who has directed the campus research response to COVID-19. “That need, and that drive to innovate, will continue beyond the coronavirus.”
Their paths weren’t always easy, as they navigated sexist attitudes. However, these experiences only made the women stronger advocates for diverse teams. Folks helped spearhead an initiative through the American Society for Engineering Education to increase diversity and inclusion at engineering colleges across the United States. Likewise, Cantwell has championed racial, ethnic, and gender equity in the workforce, and her office houses Arizona’s Science, Engineering and Math Scholars program, which focuses on promising underrepresented students.
Diversity played a key role during COVID-19, as campus teams came together to plan for safe campus reentry.
“Any time you bring together a workforce of diverse people, it’s amazing the quality of work that comes out, and the pandemic has highlighted that,” Folks said. “People across all different disciplines – male and female, LGBTQ+, all different races and ethnic backgrounds – are leveraging their expertise to support our Wildcat community through the pandemic.”