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Bridging the gap for engineering students: a conversation with Laura Bottomley and Angelitha Daniel

Female student walks into lower entrance of Fitts Woolard Hall.

Over the last five years, NC State has made significant investments in expanding support for students facing food insecurity, housing insecurity and other financial emergencies. Universitywide resources like Feed the Pack food pantry and the Student Emergency Fund are available to all students, regardless of major. 

Leaders at the college level are also looking for ways to step forward and assist students in need while connecting them to broader resources. For example, Laura Bottomley and Angelitha Daniel, at the time co-directors of the College of Engineering’s Women and Minority Engineering Programs, recently discussed the new WMEP Student Resource Bank. (Daniel has since been appointed assistant dean for diversity, equity and inclusion.)

As faculty working directly with students, the pair shared their plan for addressing the needs of students within their programs.

Angelitha Daniel: The purpose of WMEP is to recruit, engage and launch women and historically underrepresented students into their professional careers. For some students, that can be a bit of a challenge.

Laura Bottomley: It can. In fact, the other day in class, one of my students — and this happens sometimes — was leaning his head down on the table for most of class. So at the end, I went and asked him if he was OK. He said, “Well, actually, I haven’t eaten anything today.” And the thing is, this is not an isolated incident. This happens at least once a week.

Daniel: We see it often. And we know that a student cannot do their best in terms of their academic performance if they’re hungry. We also know that there are students who, in addition to being hungry, may not have a place to live. So what we’re hoping to do is build out our student support closet.

Bottomley: We’re not looking to supplant the things that the university is doing. We have a very lovely food pantry at the university level. But take this student — I want to be able to give him something to eat right then.

Daniel: Dignity is important. And for a lot of students, they’re embarrassed that they would have to ask or begin to ask for support in that way. And so this would allow us to put things in place where a student could come and just freely grab whatever they need. 

Bottomley: There was a recent situation where students discovered they weren’t allowed to bring their graphing calculators into a particular course. They needed a non-graphing calculator, but it was too much for them to afford to go buy one. I went and bought some — that’s what we do, right?

Daniel: That’s what we do. So this closet will be a place where there’s not only food, toiletries, sheets and towels but also academic supplies like engineering paper. And so we want our community to know there are ways to support us in building out this closet for our students. Gifts of all sizes are appreciated.

Bottomley: Any amount will really do good for these students. We’ll help with their immediate needs, then serve as a bridge to other resources for greater needs. 

Daniel: At the beginning of the school year, everyone is so excited to move into their dorms, and there are students who just don’t have the basics. They walk in and they see their roommate who has the full setup from Target or Pottery Barn, and they’re thinking, wow, I don’t even have the basics. So even if we need to build out a dorm room, we would like to be able to do that. So again, anything our community is willing to do in terms of support, we’re very, very appreciative.

Bottomley: That way, the only thing our students need to worry about is succeeding in their courses. 

This post was originally published in Giving News.