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Laura Bistrek

Laura Bistrek

Written by Rheja Taylor '20

From private practice to higher education, Laura Bistrek is an accomplished professional committed to equity in engineering. Encouraged to pursue her interests in math and science from a young age, she attended the University of Dayton’s Women in Engineering summer camp during high school. Exploring engineering with other young women confirmed her passion for technical innovation and became a ‘first look’ into an environment that encouraged and supported underrepresented identities in the industry. When Laura completed her summer of hands-on engineering exploration, she left affirmed and confident about her place as a woman in STEM. This experience would challenge her to think critically about identity and engineering and would ultimately shape and inform the motivation behind her life’s work. 

Graduating from University of Dayton in 1997 with a degree in civil engineering, Laura worked in engineering consulting for nearly 10 years. As a professional civil engineer, she appreciated seeing the end result of her work and how she could have an impact on the health and happiness of communities.  While the work itself allowed her to be creative and use her technical abilities, she often felt that the voices of women and minorities were not present and much needed in the field and professional networks. In 2006, Laura made a career change into higher education at the University of Dayton as the Program Manager for the  Minority Engineering Program and Women Engineering Program, which offered her the opportunity to be a change agent for the shift in engineering representation. In that role, she had the opportunity to be involved in engineering outreach, recruitment, programming for undergraduate students. Laura’s efforts did not stop at increasing physical representation, she collaborated to create the Women in Science Engineering Learning Living Community, the Minority STEM Summer Bridge Program, and reactivate the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers student chapter on campus. Learning from students and using their experiences to inform her approach to her work becomes what Laura signifies as one of the most personally impactful parts of her career. 

Today, Laura serves as the Executive Director of the Diversity in Engineering Center at the University of Dayton. Using her background in engineering and student engagement, Laura continues to look at the big picture of diversity in engineering. She works to build strong relationships within the School of Engineering and  with campus partners to increase representation of and enrich the experience for diverse students in engineering and enhance the climate and culture in the School of Engineering. She is proud that the work of the Center, the School of Engineering, and the University was recognized by the American Society of Engineering Education Diversity Recognition Program with the Bronze Exemplar Award, which was the highest level award given last year. She is also excited about the partnership with the School of Engineering and the Multi-Ethnic Education and Engagement Center to incorporate diversity, equity & inclusion and intercultural competence curriculum into the engineering seminar sequence.  

Outside of her position at UD, Laura serves on the board of directors for the national organization WEPAN - Women in Engineering ProActive Network. Through this affiliation, she became aware of the work North Dakota State University was doing with their Advocates and Allies Program, a gender equity advocacy effort for faculty in STEM fields. In partnering with several campus units, she brought this initiative to UD as the UD Men for Gender Equity Initiative and currently serves on it’s Women’s Advisory Council. Her efforts with the UD Men for Gender Equity Initiative inspire diversity and inclusion to reach beyond students, and impact faculty and staff to involve men as partners in gender equity and inclusion with the hopes of creating institutional and departmental change. 

Between serving students and finding new ways to continue the conversation of gender equity and inclusion on an institutional level, Laura has come ‘full circle’ from her Women in Engineering camp experience all those years ago. She is a true change agent, dedicated to actively doing the work with care. The community at University of Dayton gave her her roots, and has kept her committed to a mission of holistic development, inclusion and the hope to be remembered as a transparent leader that advocated for equity, led with integrity, and centered learning at the root of innovation and change. 

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