For Gina Lee-Glauser, small talk is a big deal for underrepresented STEM students

2018 Dean’s Award recipient dedicated to developing soft skills to help students succeed

Lee-Glauser stands with members of Posse Miami

Lee-Glauser (fourth from left) stands with members of Posse Miami, part of The Posse Foundation, a national organization that trains and supports urban public high school students and sends them to top U.S. colleges. Lee-Glauser was a faculty member to the first group of Posse Miami students at Syracuse University.

By Rebecca Rudell

Published May 11, 2018

As a child, one of Gina Lee-Glauser’s (MS ’88, BS ’82) dreams was to become an astronaut. While she did apply to NASA’s astronaut program—and did her post-graduate work at NASA Langley—she was, unfortunately, rejected three times. But today, she has a different mission: helping underrepresented and underprepared students achieve their dreams of graduating college.

“We need these kids to succeed because we need the diversity of solutions they can bring. For example, they understand first-hand the problems that come with living in low-income housing and can open the aperture to solving these challenges. We can learn so much from them.”
Gina Lee-Glauser
2018 SEAS Dean's Award winner

As vice president for research and scholarship at Clarkson University, Lee-Glauser works to reduce and eliminate the administrative burden associated with faculty research funding, so faculty members can dedicate their time to conducting research and innovating, rather than paperwork. She also works closely with the Shipley Center for Innovation where she helps develop strategies for transforming university research into profitable startups that enhance the local economy. But her real passion is raising up STEM students who, for one reason or another, are having a difficult time adapting to university life.

She explains that often these young men and women have attended rural or inner city public high schools where they were top of their class. Then they arrive on campus. Some are shell-shocked when they receive lower test scores than they did in high school and are distraught by being underprepared in comparison to students from wealthier school districts. While this doesn’t represent their ability to learn, their confidence is often broken. Additionally, many of them study STEM disciplines in the hope that after graduation they will change their family’s economic situation. The pressure they experience from this responsibility causes them immense stress and, ultimately, makes them feel isolated.

And that’s where Lee-Glauser steps in. Aside from offering guidance—“get a research internship as early as possible”—and pointing them toward university programs that can assist them, one simple way she pushes these students toward success is by teaching them the art of small talk.

We all know that no matter how brilliant you are, soft skills are just as, if not more, important in today’s world. So Lee-Glauser brings them together at her home where they learn to converse. She helps them understand when slang is okay, and when it’s not. She emphasizes the importance of being nice and supportive of each other. She also encourages students to do a little research on their professors before approaching them to talk, so they can have intelligent, productive discussions. All of these seemingly trivial things are what boost confidence in these students, right when they need it most. (Happily, it also eliminates the isolation issues.)

Lee-Glauser takes the time to work with these students one-on-one because she understands how important it is that they thrive. “We need these kids to succeed because we need the diversity of solutions they can bring,” she explains. “For example, they understand first-hand the problems that come with living in low-income housing, like asthma, and can open the aperture to solving these challenges. We can learn so much from them.” Thanks to Lee-Glauser’s patience, understanding and wisdom, we will.

This year, the University at Buffalo’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences is proud to present Lee-Glauser with its highest honor, the Dean’s Award for Achievement, which is awarded annually to an alum who has made a substantial contribution to the practice of engineering or applied sciences and/or has had an exceptional professional career. She will also be an honored speaker at the 2018 commencement ceremony.

A Korean immigrant raised in Staten Island, New York, Lee-Glauser received her BS and MS from UB’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. She earned her PhD in mechanical and aeronautical engineering from Clarkson University. Prior to joining Clarkson, she served as vice president for research at Syracuse University. She was named a Fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) in 2013.