VentureWell funds Penn State initiative for underrepresented engineering students

SOURCE: Lilian Suwanrumpha/AFP
While there is a worldwide demand for workers in the industry, there are still low numbers of women engineers.

By U2B Staff 

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Penn State University has received US$24,000 from nonprofit organisation VentureWell to advance an extracurricular initiative to support women and underrepresented groups in engineering. 

The initiative, called Boosting Undergraduate Innovation and Leadership through Design (BUILD), was an extra-curriculum programme provided by the Penn State College of Engineering’s School of Engineering Design, Technology, and Professional Programs (SEDTAPP). 

BUILD was designed to increase and retain the number of women and traditionally underrepresented students in engineering by instilling a sense of confidence in their work through hands-on design activities. 


Studies indicate that despite the growing demand for workers in the industry, a large proportion of students from ethnic minority backgrounds as well as women are more often than not, underrepresented. 

Thus, initiatives such as the BUILD programme will allow universities to encourage these groups to pursue their studies further and guide them as they enter the workforce. 

The programme led to the creation of the Maker Ambassadors, a programme that provides training to women and underrepresented engineering students who plan, promote, lead and execute events called BUILD Nights which are held at the Bernard M. Gordon Learning Factory. 

These events encourage and strengthen these minority engineering students by building confidence in their abilities. Now, thanks to VentureWell’s support, the impacts of this initiative will expand to other departments within the university. 

“This additional support will help the BUILD program reach new audiences. Specifically, we are excited to work with faculty and students from the College of Health and Human Development to launch hackathons and BUILD nights that bring together engineering students, nursing students, biobehavioral health students and many more,” said Penn State University assistant professor of engineering design and mechanical engineering and principal investigator Jessica Menold.  

The programme instills confidence in engineering students. Source: Lilian Suwanrumpha/AFP.

The BUILD project was selected to receive funding from VentureWell through a competitive national review process and has the potential to bring significant and long-term impacts on the entrepreneurial ecosystem at Penn State. 

“This funding represents a unique opportunity to encourage cross-college collaboration that could lead to some really unique projects and startup ideas,” added Menold. 

The BUILD programme is also led by Penn State University co-principal investigator Meg Handley who is the acting director of SEDTAPP’s Engineering Leadership Development (ELD) programme and is also associate director of engineering leadership outreach and an assistant teaching professor. 

She is joined by associate teaching professor of engineering design and associate director of the engineering design programme Sara Ritter, and Penn State College of Health and Human Development Prevention Research Center director of social innovation Meg Small. 


This isn’t the first instance where the BUILD initiative has received a significant amount of support. In fact, the programme has attracted strong industry support to further advance its cause. Before the VentureWell grant, industry leader Lockheed Martin contributed US$20,000 to help establish the programme. 

As this initiative continues to grow to cover more departments and industries, the team is confident that the participants will be ready to reap the positive impact. 

“Entrepreneurship faces the same problems with gender equity and diversity as engineering and STEM fields. Our hope is that through this collaboration, we will not only spur unique startups at the intersection of health and technology, but we will encourage women and minoritized students to lead them,” said Menold.