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Spainhour awarded grant and selected for prestigious leadership program at Drexel

Story by
Trisha Radulovich
Professor Lisa Spainhour portrait

Years ago as a new faculty member, FAMU-FSU College of Engineering Professor Lisa Spainhour wrote an essay on the lack of diversity in the engineering profession. “If all you have is hammers,” she lamented, “All of the problems will look like nails.” 

Now the chair of the civil and environmental engineering department, Spainhour is again shining a spotlight on diversity in the engineering profession through a new role. She was recently named a Fellow for the Executive Leadership in Academic Technology, Engineering, and Science (ELATES) program at Drexel University. Spainhour is one of 30 women faculty from 22 different institutions from the United States and Canada to be chosen in 2020.

“Being accepted to the ELATES program is quite an honor,” Spainhour said. “As a woman in a traditionally-male field, I'm excited to learn more about gender differences in leadership, my management style, and how I can improve my communication and organizational skills to be a more collaborative leader.”

ELATES is a professional leadership program at Drexel University that prepares female faculty in academic engineering, computer science and other STEM fields for institutional leadership roles within their colleges and universities. Selection for ELATES is a competitive process that hones in on a candidate’s ability to lead. Spainhour was nominated by Murray Gibson, dean of the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering.

“Lisa demonstrated her excellent leadership skills as interim chair, and I am looking forward to working with her to grow the department’s impact in the coming years,” Gibson said.

In partnership with ELATES, Spainhour also received an Engineering Dean’s Gender Equity (EDGE) grant. The goal of the EDGE initiative is to reduce barriers for female engineering faculty. EDGE is part of the ELATES program, a one-of-a-kind professional development program in the STEM arena.

“Building my network of female colleagues from around the country is one of the things I’m looking forward to the most,” Spainhour said. “I’ve already gotten several great ideas from senior leaders at other universities that I can bring back to the college this fall.”  

Each participant in ELATES identifies an individual leadership project to work over the course of a year. Spainhour is still considering many ideas that she may work on for her department. 

“I would like to modernize the department’s strategic plan and restructure the advisory board to be a more impactful organization,” Spainhour said. “One idea that hits a lot of different needs is developing a formal undergraduate research program in the department.”

Spainhour is a 27-year college veteran. She was selected as chair of the civil and environmental engineering department earlier this year.