Alice Pawley – 2020 Olmsted Award Winner

Sterling Olmsted Award 2020: Alice Pawley

Dr. Alice Pawley is a truly outstanding researcher in the field of Engineering Education and a vital contributor to LEES’ mission of supporting pedagogical and societal change. Her innovative scholarship offers unfailingly incisive and constructive address of insistent inequities in engineering as both a professional discipline and an educational field, and we are proud to award Dr. Pawley the Sterling Olmsted Award for 2020.

Dr. Pawley is an Associate Professor in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University, as well as an affiliate faculty member in the Gender, Women’s and Sexuality Studies Program and the Division of Environmental and Ecological Engineering. She is a recipient of an NSF CAREER award and the Denice Denton Emerging Leader Award of the Anita Borg Institute, and was a co-PI of Purdue’s ADVANCE program. She also runs the Feminist Research in Engineering Education group at Purdue. Her scholarship on the experiences of undergraduate engineering students, centering on the stories offered by people of color and white women, has been widely cited and received many commendations, including ASEE-ERM’s Best Paper award. At the ASEE Annual Conference in 2019, Dr. Pawley delivered the Distinguished Lecture, “’Come Get your People!’: Breaking Silences about Equity in Engineering Education Research.”

The impacts of Dr. Pawley’s work derive from her fundamental commitment to making engineering a more reflective and inclusive discipline and her notably critical understanding of research methods; in embracing qualitative methods and a close focus on the self-reported narratives of students, she has brought unprecedented attention to researchers’ potential role in reproducing the marginalization of women, people of color, LGBTQIA+ communities and disabled people. Rejecting the essentializing operations of many familiar forms of research on STEM minoritization in U.S. higher education, she has guided our attention to the customary erasure of intersectional experiences and deep structural causes of educational inequity. Moreover, her scholarship has cast a raking light on the privileges accorded majority persons in engineering and related fields, including in Liberal Education and Engineering Education Research, contributing to larger critical projects on how universities may become more socially just institutions. With her unstinting concern for the privilege accorded to whiteness, to masculinity, and to abled identity, Dr. Pawley brings the specific inquiries of engineering education research into dialog with our broadest societal challenges today, a transformative opportunity for LEES.

Dr. Pawley has recently been called “in inspirational scholar—an inspirational spirit–in the LEES community,” and we fully concur with that description. Within LEES, ASEE, the academy, and the many communities to which she belongs, she has brought tremendous energy and a fiercely reflective stance. It is with great pleasure that we name Dr. Alice Pawley the recipient of this year’s Sterling Olmsted Award.


Submitted by:

LEES Awards Committee, 2020 Annual Meeting:

Amy Slaton [chair]

Atsushi Akera

Donna Riley

Juan Lucena

For further information and to get to know Dr. Alice Pawley, consider  the Feminist Research in Engineering (FREE) group that Dr. Pawley founded.  Publications can by found here.  An introduction to the most recent ASEE-LEES submission from Dr. Pawley and a talk at MIT’s Festival of Learning 2020 are below: