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Thompson’s Passion Brings Success in Inaugural Year as WiE Director

Jalonda Thompson

Jalonda Thompson celebrated her first year as the college’s director of the Women in Engineering (WiE) Program this summer. In this short time, she has overseen a robust series of events and programs and formed substantial connections that fuel engagement for Engineering Vol women.

Thompson came to the college in 2015 as assistant director of Engineering Diversity Programs, and brings to the WiE program a strong background in student-success roles, particularly with underrepresented populations.

A native of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, she built experience as an academic advisor for exploratory majors at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, as assistant director of multicultural affairs and leadership at Elon University, and as a research assistant at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, where she conducted research and published on topics related to women health.

This background has prepared her for the work she does in coaching our female Engineering Vols, from prospective students to graduates of the college. Her own undergraduate experience informs her heartfelt motivation for supporting student women.

“That’s why I have such a passion for helping students to have a broader outlook of how they can use engineering,” said Thompson.

At North Carolina’s Salem College, an all-women college, Thompson experienced firsthand what support looks like for women, who may navigate engineering differently as a marginalized group.

“Support services like WiE should seek to understand them as an individual, hear their experiences, and empower them to navigate their experiences in engineering,” she said.

Thompson credits the cultivation of a community effort for the WiE program’s level of success. Campus partnerships bolster the program’s set goals: recruiting diverse talent, cultivating a welcoming campus environment to retain students, encouraging confidence as they develop leadership experience, and assuring that they are prepared to go into academia or industry.

“One of the things that I learned in this new role is the importance of collaboration,” she said. “However, students are defining their outcome of engineering, we want them to be prepared. Because diversity is everyone’s responsibility, you can’t just do it as one person. We need to leverage multiple people‘s support, resources, and expertise.”

The college’s Academic and Student Affairs office has contributed immensely, and the program has enjoyed support from university-wide units.

“But most importantly, our alums are giving back and passing the torch,” she said. “Events involving our alumni have been the most successful. Alumna and Board of Advisors member Barbie Bigelow is one of the individuals working with us to connect alumni with our students.”

Activities such as virtual information sessions put incoming students in conversation with current Vols and young alumni who share their success stories. Thompson’s team of WiE Ambassadors—Molly Claus, Ainsley Holliday, Savannah Roth, and Alaina Washington—led the sessions. This team is expected to increase to six members in fall 2022.

Other outreach included information sessions during the college’s annual Engineers Day to introduce prospective students to women-centric student organizations and to see a day in the life of engineering alumni. Similarly, the inaugural Women in Engineering ConNEXTion Day event gave admitted female engineering students the opportunity to get familiar with campus facilities and faculty.

WiE activities promote retention through connective events like student-faculty mixers, Engineering Expo preparation, and presentations from alumni like Camille Calibeo, whose “Galactic Gal” social media presence promotes interest in aerospace engineering. WiE also awarded a Tennessee Architectural and Engineering Grant to support the WiE Graduate Development Program and the FE Exam Fee Reimbursement Program for TCE students.

In addition to the ambassador team, the program is supported by the WiE Advisory Board and WiE LEAD, a collective of TCE women-centric student organizations that provide female students opportunities for leadership development, mentoring, and collaboration.

Upcoming activities planned by Thompson and team include the WiE Welcome YOU event, WiE campus visits, and another ConNEXTion Day. Her focused leadership combined with a support system that encompasses the Big Orange community make it easy to see bold growth continuing for the WiE program.

“We have some great things that are coming forth in the next year,” said Thompson. “I’m positioning us to be a national leader when it comes to the WiE program.”