$1.5M gift launches Collins Fellowship supporting diversity

Lance R. Collins

Cornell Engineering has established the Lance R. Collins Fellowship, created to support engineering graduate students from traditionally underrepresented populations, and to honor Lance R. Collins, who for 10 years was the Joseph Silbert Dean of the College of Engineering.

Alumni of Cornell Engineering raised $1.5 million to fund the fellowship. Members of the Engineering College Council were instrumental in the success of the effort, including council chair Elissa Sterry ’79, M.Eng. ’80.

“The council is honored to have worked closely with Dean Collins in his tireless effort to make Cornell Engineering a leader in diversity and inclusion,” said Sterry. “This fund will contribute to ensuring his legacy lives on.”

When his second five-year term as dean of Cornell Engineering ended June 30, Collins became the inaugural vice president and executive director of Virginia Tech’s new Innovation Campus.

The first African American dean at Cornell, Collins prioritized diversifying the College of Engineering’s faculty and student body. He more than doubled the proportion of undergraduate students from underrepresented communities, from 8% to 19%, and increased the enrollment of undergraduate women from 33% to 50%, while keeping graduation rates and average GPA equal among genders.

For his work on diversity, Collins received the inaugural Mosaic Medal of Distinction in 2017 from Cornell Mosaic – an alumni organization founded to increase engagement from alumni of all backgrounds – and the 2018 Edward Bouchet Legacy Award from Howard University and Yale University, which recognizes educators and advocates who promote diversity and inclusion.

“Cornell’s diversity efforts lead the nation,” Collins said, “and I am incredibly proud of the fact that the engineering alumni chose this way to recognize my contribution to those efforts. I look forward to meeting the fellowship awardees in the future and offering my services as a mentor to those who are interested. This is a legacy that I will cherish forever.”

In addition to his success diversifying the student body and faculty of the college, Collins led one of the largest capital campaigns in Cornell Engineering’s history, and helped secure its two largest gifts, which established the Nancy E. and Peter C. Meinig School of Biomedical Engineering and the Robert Frederick Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. Collins also prioritized experiential learning within the college, launching the Engineering Leadership Program and developing new entrepreneurship initiatives, such as the Commercialization Fellowship and the Scale-Up and Prototyping Awards.

Jami Joyner, director of Diversity Programs in Engineering at Cornell, and José F. Martínez, associate dean for diversity and academic affairs at Cornell Engineering, will play a large role in creating the qualification and application process for the Collins Fellowship.

“The Collins Fellowship reaffirms Cornell’s founding principle of ‘… any person… any study’ as it further fortifies Cornell Engineering’s commitment to institutionalizing access, inclusion and excellence across STEM disciplines,” Joyner said.

“This fellowship is a beautiful way to culminate Lance’s 10-year effort to make Cornell Engineering one of the most diverse, elite engineering schools in the nation, Martínez said. “The Lance R. Collins fellows will further strengthen an outstanding cohort of Sloan, Colman, GEM and other graduate fellows in engineering.”

Chris Dawson is a writer for the College of Engineering.

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