Cammy Abernathy is the first woman dean to head UF’s College of Engineering.
This summer, the University of Florida named Cammy Abernathy dean of the College of Engineering. The first woman dean in the college’s 100 years, Abernathy is a longtime professor of materials science who earned her doctorate at Stanford and came to UF from AT&T’s Bell Laboratories in New Jersey. She talked to Florida Trend about her goals, about better preparing a greater diversity of young people for the profession and about being the first woman dean:
Student Skills: "The employers who hire our students tell us that the hallmark of American engineering is leadership, and specifically, ethics, entrepreneurship and the ability to be innovative and creative. You’re always looking for things to define your graduates in the marketplace, and we’re going to implement some of these skills more overtly — in addition to more communications skills."
Recruiting: "We need to do more to recruit from pools of talent we have not done well recruiting, including women, African-Americans and Hispanics. We produce more Hispanic engineers than anyone else in the country besides Puerto Rico, but we need to do more."
Communication: "There is this impression that we are tinkerers. I don’t think we explain well enough that we are problem-solvers. We have to change how we explain what engineers do, to both the general public and students. Women are very attracted to problem-solving professions; I think this is why we see more women in biomedical engineering. We need to talk more about the impact that we have and the importance of what we do."
Math: "If you get off track in math by eighth grade, it’s really difficult to pursue engineering. We need to continue to partner with schools at critical points so that students will see the importance of math and stay on track in math."
Role Models: "I know that having a role model may help retain some women students in engineering — and other students, too. I saw this at Stanford, where I worked with an African-American professor I felt most comfortable with. Institutions that are diverse in one area tend to be diverse in other areas."