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“My story is one of thousands of girls who have had opportunities provided to them by Serita and the W.I.S.E. program at Clemson. I cannot think of a more deserving person for the Promotion of Education Award than Serita Acker — the woman whose program defined my college career and who continually provides counsel not only to me, but to anyone who walks through her always-open office door,” says Heather Sprague, University of California, Davis, M.S., civil and environmental engineering, class of 2015.

Tiffany C. Washington, now a field industrial engineer with Lowe’s Companies, recalls: “I was the typical freshman with minimal understanding of the college world. As a woman and a minority, I learned early on that we are a small population in the engineering world. Going into my sophomore year at Clemson, I began to struggle maintaining my GPA in civil engineering. Ms. Acker took note of my strengths and weaknesses and exposed me to other majors I hadn’t considered. I later changed my major to industrial engineering and immediately saw my GPA improve. I cannot say that I would have stayed in a STEM field had it not been for her encouragement and dedication to my success.”


Under the W.I.S.E. umbrella are: the W.I.S.E. Experience, a one-week camp for incoming female freshman planning on majoring in engineering, math, or science; W.I.S.E. Choice, which brings young women to the university for a day to explore careers in engineering and science; the Big Sister Mentoring Program that builds bonds between new students and older peers; and W.I.S.E.R., a living and learning community of students majoring in engineering and science.

Ms. Acker summarizes: “The W.I.S.E. program at Clemson University has made a significant contribution to the College of Engineering and Science by helping to retain women who are pursuing a degree. The program is also a pipeline for young ladies in K-12. It gives students of all ages the opportunity to learn about the fields of engineering and science.”

Just this year (2014), Ms. Acker was honored with two awards: Introduce a Girl to Engineering from the National Engineering Foundation, and the Martin Luther King Jr. Award from the university.

graduation rate from low single digits to double digits.

While Dr. Incera was engaging her faculty and students in creating a richer department, the state of Texas was reviewing all the programs of public universities whose graduation rate were below a certain benchmark, leading to the closure of several underperforming physics programs. The UTEP Physics Program was saved because by the time this decision was made, it had demonstrated a clear revamping by all indicators.

Vivian Incera, Ph.D. Dr. C. Sharp Cook Chair in Physics, Professor, Department of Physics University of Texas at El Paso


ost recently, Dr. Incera devoted herself to such a large degree to the physics program at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) that she saved the life of the department itself.

At UTEP in January 2009, she began a five-year term as the physics chair when the program was at a critical stage. With only 15 majors in the fall of 2008 and 22 when Incera arrived, her challenge was evident. The deep transformation she led during these five years touched every aspect of the department and gave rise to significant improvements in research funding and faculty productivity, a larger and more advanced graduate student body, a jump in physics majors’ enrollment to 100+, and an increase in the physics


During January 2014, Dr. Incera stepped down from her UTEP position to research and mentor, and to grow an innovative physics bridge program she created in collaboration with top research institutions like MIT, University of Arizona, UT Austin, and the University of Chicago. Its primary goal is to up the number of underrepresented minorities and women earning Ph.D.s in physics; it has already placed several UTEP physics majors in competitive physics Ph.D. programs. Again, the credit goes to Dr. Incera: She received a grant from NSF to support this initiative.

Dr. Incera’s leadership and the impact she has had on educating under-represented minorities in physics has led to many invitations to serve on STEM national committees and to present at national conferences and meetings organized by the American Physical Society (APS) and the American Association of Physics Teachers.

Recently, she was nominated for vice-chair of the Texas section of the APS. If elected she will serve for three consecutive years, as vice-chair, chair, and past chair, a position that will give her the chance to promote a career in physics and impact more students and under-represented minorities throughout the state.

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