Shannon Moran earns MLK Spirit Award for inclusivity efforts

For years, Chemical Engineering PhD student Shannon Moran searched for a mentor who mirrored herself. She had female engineering students in her classes and female engineering professors, but it wasn’t until 2012—after Moran had entered the workforce and joined the Boston Consulting Group—that she found an out LGBTQ mentor.

Now, Moran is a mentor for LGBTQ engineering students at the University of Michigan and the architect behind several inclusive programs across campus and the United States. Her extensive efforts earned her a 2018 Martin Luther King Spirit Award for her work to expand LGBTQ visibility on campus and beyond.

“I want to be the mentor I wish I’d had for LGBTQ students who are drawn to engineering, but hesitate to pursuit a degree because they don’t see anyone like them,” says Moran, who is a member of the Glotzer Group. “The world was a very different place in 2013. There’s tremendous momentum around LGBTQ inclusivity efforts, but academia is still catching up.”

Moran began building the foundations of her LGBTQ inclusivity efforts in 2013, when she became a small-group mentor and curriculum coordinator for Out for Undergrad (O4U). The national, volunteer-run nonprofit hosts annual weekend-long professional conferences for outstanding LGBT undergraduates, and soon asked Moran to redesign its engineering conference.

She added networking and communications workshops, mentorship sessions and TED-style talks. The changes were a hit among participants. One attendee shared that “before this weekend, I’d relied upon the vague hope that it was statistically improbable that I was the only LGBT engineer. Now I know 200 of them.”

In fall of 2015, Moran brought her community-building passion and program development skills to U-M as a first-year graduate student. Moran’s extensive efforts earned her a 2018 Martin Luther King Spirit Award for her work to expand LGBTQ visibility on campus and beyond.

She played a key role in shaping the Chemical Engineering Peer Mentor program for graduate students, which aims to improve the department’s inclusivity and retention of its diverse student population.

Moran was a member of the program’s inaugural mentee class, then became a peer mentor the following year. She also led the creation of a program curriculum, which provided peer mentors with tools and resources to prepare their students for the candidacy exam.

“What’s unique about this program is not only does it promote inclusivity and academic excellence among the first-year class, it also provides peer mentors a unique leadership experience,” Moran says. “Many PhD students would not get an opportunity to navigate managing and motivating a diverse group until they enter the workforce. I want to change that.”

Her efforts reach beyond the Department of Chemical Engineering. Currently, she is developing a pilot program that matches out U-M graduate students with undergraduates, helping to fill a mentoring void for LGBTQ students.

This story was originally published by Michigan Engineering