A Profile in Partnership

Fall 2003

For the philanthropic arm of the General Electric Corporation (GE), partnership can be a means to effect change. Joyce Hergenhan, who has been president of the GE Fund for the past five years, explains the philosophy behind the philanthropy. “For each initiative, we identify schools that have taken leadership on the issues central to that initiative, whether it’s diversity, curriculum innovation, or collaboration with other education institutions,” noted Hergenhan, who retires from GE this year. The fund, too, is changing, at least in name: As it celebrated its 50th anniversary this spring, the GE Fund was rechristened the GE Foundation.

The Whiting School is currently managing three such initiatives, funded by GE’s philanthropy, that are bringing about important changes. For two of them, Ilene Busch-Vishniac, former dean and current professor of Mechanical Engineering, has been leading the way.

Taken together, these three initiatives touch some key issues in engineering education. At the national level, a planning task force—led by Whiting School faculty and underwritten by a GE Foundation planning grant—brings together experts from GE, Sylvan Learning Systems, Inc., EDS, Exxon Mobil Corporation, Tufts University, Morgan State University, the National Academy of Engineering, the University of California, Berkeley, and other corporations and universities. They are looking at ways to fundamentally retool engineering curricula so that the profession attracts more women and a wider ethnic range of students.

“The engineering workforce in the United States is 91 percent male and only 7 percent minority, less than half of which is African American,” Busch-Vishniac said. “This lack of diversity persists despite huge unmet needs for technically trained personnel in both the private and public sectors.”

Faculty for the Future, funded by another GE Foundation grant, supports providing female and minority role models at the Whiting School. The initiative serves to attract and retain students from underrepresented groups.

The foundation’s Learning Excellence grant underwrites a unique class called “What is Engineering?” Designed especially for non-engineering freshmen at Hopkins, the class uses a virtual lab to develop interest in engineering disciplines. Expansion of this program will make it possible to reach high school students and undergraduates at colleges that lack engineering programs.

“Not all institutions have the ideas, energy, and commitment that the Whiting School does,” Hergenhan observed. She credited Busch-Vishniac and the Hopkins faculty for their “well-founded reputation at the campus and national levels for taking on these issues, thinking creatively, and developing quality solutions.”

For information on industrial initiatives, corporate partnerships, and funding opportunities at the Whiting School, contact Lani Hummel, director of the Office of Industrial Initiatives, at [email protected] or (410) 516-8941.