Academics and Research

Engineering lecturer honored for work with Native American students

In the 1980s, when Bob Whitman was pursuing his master’s degree in engineering at Colorado State University, he was one of only two Native American students in the entire school.

“I decided I needed to do something about this and try to influence young Native Americans to pursue science and technical engineering degrees,” says Whitman, a member of the Navajo tribe who is now a senior lecturer at the University of Denver’s Daniel Felix Ritchie School of Engineering & Computer Science. “That’s when I started picking up students, and that gave me a passion for mentoring.”

Thanks to that passion, Whitman recently was awarded a fellowship from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) for his work mentoring young Native American students in engineering and science.

For years Whitman has been mentoring and recruiting young Native American students to the world of science. His work addresses a very real problem in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields. African-Americans, Hispanics, American Indians and Alaska natives account for just 10 percent of science and engineering workers in the United States, according to the National Science Board’s “Science and Engineering Indicators” report published in 2014. The same report also suggests that women represent just 28 percent of the same work force.

“The whole engineering profession is largely, sadly to say, a white-male-dominated profession. But it’s changing slowly,” says Michael Keables, interim dean of the Ritchie School. “I’m just glad [Whitman’s] here, to be honest. He’s one of our foundation faculty in terms of working with the incoming students, and a true supporter for diversity and inclusion.”

At DU, Whitman teaches first- and second-year curriculum for electrical engineering and general engineering students. On his own time he is an ambassador for Native Americans to the science field. He attends national meetings focusing on Native American students in the field and helps bring students to campus to expose them to the sciences. Whitman believes the AAAS award will help further his efforts to raise awareness about the lack of diversity in the field.

“For me it’s a big honor,” Whitman says. “It’s an accomplishment, but really the work is not done. This kind of redoubles my effort and gives me a little more credibility to speak to people about mentorship programs. I think it gives the [University of Denver] a name in the field. It puts DU in front of people, and it’s a chance to educate them about our programs and our school.”

Whitman grew up in New Mexico, earning his bachelor of science in electrical engineering from the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque. After earning his master of science in electrical engineering from Colorado State University, he received a PhD from the University of Colorado. He joined the DU faculty in 1998.



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