Dr. Susan Cheng

Manager of Diversity and Inclusion for Mechanical Engineering, Michigan Engineering

Although she has only been with the Mechanical Engineering department since March 2022, Susan Cheng has had an immediate and transformative impact on the environment and culture for students and faculty. Susan is Co-Chair of the Mechanical Engineering DEI Committee and has worked to ensure the department always operates from an “equity-centered engineering” mindset. Examples of her efforts include holding regular office hours focused on DEI discussions and ideas, working with faculty to incorporate DEI into research and curriculum, partnering with CRLT to host Anti-Black Racism workshops, group discussions, and other educational opportunities, and launching the departments new DEI Community website page with resources and other pertinent information. In addition, one faculty member stated that Susan, “has spent countless hours helping to ensure that we provide an equitable environment and experience for an incoming Ph.D. student in my group, who identifies as a person with a physical disability. This included coordination with the ADA office, building managers, graduate coordinators in multiple departments, and my group to ensure that our facilities, environment, and culture are designed in a manner that will make this student’s experience at U-M equitable and inclusive.” In a phrase, Susan embodies ME’s DEI message, “We all belong here”.

Being your best DEI self: Think of a time when you were at your best at advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion. What happened? Who was there? Why did you feel at your best?

“I am my best DEI self when I am building belonging in academia—connecting members of our disciplinary community to resources, to new ideas, and to one another. Recognizing the need to provide an accessible and safe space for faculty, staff, postdocs, and students to share concerns and ideas about DEI throughout the year, I designed and launched monthly “DEI Share Sessions.” There are three ways someone can engage with DEI Share Sessions: through 20-minute 1:1 meetings to quickly talk about ideas and concerns, 1-hour group discussions that bring people together around a common topic of interest, and 1-hour 1:1 meetings for more in-depth discussion. In all these formats, Share Sessions involve exchanging resources, talking about challenges, and brainstorming ideas that spark new DEI projects. These interactions also reignite momentum around this work, reminding us of the value of building a community around DEI and intentionally providing space for individuals to develop their own methods for advancing DEI in personally meaningful ways.”

In envisioning the future, how would you describe progress in the realm of diversity, equity, and inclusion? What might it look like?

“We often discuss progress in DEI in terms of the necessary work of changing individual hearts and minds. I believe that true progress in DEI requires an additional layer of change: Building DEI into our educational infrastructures themselves. Working toward infrastructural progress means changing the underlying norms, policies, and routines that shape our everyday work—extending to how we plan events, design curriculum, collaborate on teams, support colleagues during challenging times, and recruit, hire, and reward members of our community. By changing the infrastructural aspects of our departments and our campus, we move closer to a world where students, staff, postdocs, and faculty have what they need to achieve their personal and professional goals in ways that value and honor their backgrounds and experiences.”

What does it mean to you to be a recipient of the MLK Spirit Awards?

“As Manager of Diversity and Inclusion for Mechanical Engineering, my role is centrally about connecting all the DEI-related programs and projects that department members are working on. Being nominated for this award thus also means that the students, faculty, postdocs, and staff I work with everyday are being recognized for the collective work being done to build and sustain DEI momentum in our department. Importantly, my nomination for this award doubles as an opportunity for sharing the important work Mechanical Engineering is doing to put people-first engineering first.”

Dr. Susan Cheng