Tonya L. Peeples delivered the University of Iowa College of Engineering Distinguished Speaker remarks on April 11, 2023.

Peeples is a professor of chemical engineering and senior associate dean at Penn State University College of Engineering, as well as a former faculty member at UI.

Presentation: Building Engineering Network for Inclusive Culture, Equity, and Retention (Be Nicer)

Overview of Peeples’ research

  • Peeples’ Lab – Bioprocessing, Biotechnology, Sustainability
  • Microorganisms can form biofilms in natural environments. The four stages are reversable attachment, irreversible attachment, biofilm maturation, and biofilm dispersion.
  • Research focuses on atrazine (a priority pollutant) in the environment and looking at biofilms systems to affect remediation. There is controversy around what limits should be.

Research experience for undergraduates at Penn State

  • REU is an NSF research project focused on integration of biology and materials.
  • Exposing undergraduates to research is a high impact practice that helps with retention, access to mentors, and preparation for graduate schools, professional schools, and careers.

DEI at Penn State CoE

  • Peeples is active in DEI in the Penn State CoE.
  • DEI is activated through program managements and the Center for Engineering Outreach and Inclusion
  • Fall college welcome: 2,000 first-year students invited, 500 third-year students from commonwealth campuses, and 1,500 students attended. The message is you belong here. Bet on yourself.
  • Impact: Excellence, equity, social mobility, and sustainability. Success in college can change the trajectory of a family.

Transform campus

  • Updating campus buildings while including maker spaces.
  • There’s a challenge of creating community when there’s 14 units spread across campus.


  • Inclusive Academic Community
  • Rebuilding Center for Engineering Outreach and Inclusion
  • A. James Clark Scholar Program
  • College Level Faculty Search Outcomes

Center for Engineering Outreach and Inclusion

  • Equity grants, equity research, and broader impact consultation
  • International Engineering Program
  • Multi-Cultural Engineering Program
  • P-12 Curriculum Development

Women in Engineering Program (WEP)

  • Pivotal element in consistently high undergraduate retention and graduation rates.
  • Female graduates 116 % from 2011 to 2020
  • Women’s power hour, mentoring, study groups

Youth engineering Solutions (YES)

  • Engineering instruction should begin in elementary grades or earlier

Student research and graduate equity

Advancing Master’s Program Scholars

Clark Scholars Program (low-income students majoring in engineering)

  • 40 students cohort
  • 10 students attend annually
  • $25M endowment
  • Covers full cost of school (tuition, fees, room/board, co-curricular enrichment activities)

Penn State CoE strategic plan

Goal 1: Grow a pervasive, welcoming, equitable and inclusive culture and climate through the college’s students, faculty and staff that exemplifies the Penn State values.

  • Equity action plan: Engage, deepen, retain and advance, and recruit
  • Fix the broken ladders

College-level faculty search

  • Departmental search committee representation
  • Five hires in first two cycles
  • Build Engineering Equity Infrastructure – DEI committees, mentorship activities, faculty affinity groups.

Aspire Alliance: Institutional Change Initiative

  • Goals: Inclusive, diverse, culture, collaboration
  • Partners: 19 2-year college, 108 4-year colleges, 58 organizational partners across 40 states

Kind Cohort (with Fresno State) Kindling Inter-University Networks for Diverse

  • Practice and Policy Audit

Empowering Women of Color in Engineering Academy

National Coalition of Women in Technology (NCWIT) – Tech Inclusion Journey


  • Create networks
  • Not about having the rulebook, it’s about doing the work and putting it into practice
  • Build trust with communities