Promoting Diversity in Engineering: Exposing Students before Undergrad

Enabling underrepresented students to participate in research

Today you will make your own solar cell. Start by precipitating a thin layer of silver onto a silicon wafer and we’ll go outside and see how much current you can generate. Does this sound too complicated for anyone outside of academics? Not quite. In fact, Dr. Lynford Goddard, Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is reaching out to high school students from diverse backgrounds to teach them that complex engineering is within their reach and can be fun too! Dr. Goddard is motivated by the hope of bringing different perspectives and backgrounds to engineering in order to solve interesting problems by making sure all populations are represented and by providing accessible career paths for minority and disenfranchised students. His current outreach is focused specifically on encouraging high school girls with the goal of increasing the representation of women in STEM fields.

Dr. Goddard’s efforts have an immediate effect on the development of the next generation’s engineering workforce. There has been significant growth in the importance of electronics and photonics in our everyday lifestyles including smart devices, high data rate communication systems, and medical sensors. Therefore, helping to create the scientific foundations for aspiring students will facilitate their careers as future inventors and engineers. Additionally, it is not just teaching students STEM topics, but rather creating a high caliber and inspirational experience. Dr. Goddard and his team leverage state-of-the-art facilities at the University to enable high school students to learn about cutting-edge science and engineering topics with hands-on projects unparalleled to experiences they will have in their classroom, and sometimes even during their undergraduate careers. With enthusiasm, Dr. Goddard explains, “I want to extend diversity to harness the strengths of each group of people.” It is clear that his commitment to outreach on top of his rigorous research in his lab is doing just that.

Current outreach projects include:

  • Girls Learning Electrical Engineering (GLEE): Dr. Goddard created an annual one week summer camp for rising 10th-12th grade girls to gain exposure and interest in electrical engineering. The program includes classroom instruction, hands-on activities and demos, tours of research facilities, and team projects to build solar cells, LED calculators, and FM radio phones. Additionally, campers connect with faculty members and female students at the University to foster continued support for their academic futures. GLEE has been held annually since 2010. A total of 136 girls have attended. Thus, the program has resulted in a community of young women that have a refreshing enthusiasm for STEM fields.

  • Illinois Academy Summer Camp: Dr. Goddard developed an annual three day summer camp for rising 8th through 12th grade students in collaboration with the University of Illinois Extension and the national 4-H club’s leadership program. Since 2012, 90 students have participated thus further promoting Dr. Goddard’s mission to expand opportunity for a diverse group of young aspiring students.

  • Research Experience for Teachers: To make a widespread impact on young students across the nation, Dr. Goddard also participates in the NSF research experience for teachers (RET) program. During the summer, he invites middle school, high school, and community college teachers to his lab where he mentors them through a six week summer research opportunity with the goal of developing instructional modules that can be brought back to their classrooms and shared with their students to amplify the impact. Dr. Goddard is developing the scaffolding to make this program sustainable before the NSF funding ends.


Dr. Lynford Goddard became a university professor because he is passionate about education and at the same time, enjoys working with students on research projects. His enthusiasm began while he was young; his mom instilled in him a love of math. In high school, he discovered physics, and therefore, when he began his undergraduate career, he was eager to begin studying the sciences with a mathematical approach. Fortunately, he was surrounded by positive mentors that encouraged and supported his journey. In fact, Dr. Douglas Osheroff, who later won the Nobel Prize, was one of his earliest college mentors. Dr. Osheroff took Dr. Goddard under his wing and guided him towards graduate studies in physics.

Dr. Goddard’s interest in photonics was sparked from an optics laboratory class he took as a senior undergraduate coupled with a research internship at Xerox PARC on blue laser diodes. At the time, only two research groups in the world could make blue laser diodes making his research both exciting and rewarding. He is motivated by the need to give back these sorts of unique experiences to the next generation of students. His outreach programs are varied and hope to incorporate students with a diverse set of experiences and future goals.

In his free time, aside from research and his commitment to students, Dr. Goddard enjoys playing pickup basketball with the university students. Additionally, he enjoys long-distance running and is currently training to qualify for the Boston marathon.



AAAS Early Career Award for Public Engagement with Science

For engaging with the public on science- and technology-related issues and promoting meaningful dialogue between science and society, 2011

Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE)

Nominated by the Department of Energy in 2008 (Awarded in 2010), for innovative research in building sensors and chip-scale photonic systems, contributions to device design, modeling and fabrication, as well as the characterization of novel semiconductor materials. The PECASE award is the highest award bestowed by the U.S. Government upon scientists and engineers in the early stages of their independent research careers.

ECE Ronald W. Pratt Faculty Outstanding Teaching Award

For contributions to the instructional program of the department through sustained excellence in teaching and guiding our undergraduate students, 2012.

University of Illinois Engineering Council Award for Excellence in Advising

For advising graduate students in engineering, 2014.

Senior Member in Professional Societies

Optical Society of America, for contributions in the field of optics and photonics, 2015. SPIE - The International Society for Optical Engineering, for achievements in semiconductor lasers, 2014. IEEE, for significant performance in professional practice, 2010.