Earlham College hires accomplished educator to lead launch of full engineering major

Whitney Blackburn-Lynch

Earlham College has appointed Whitney Blackburn-Lynch, an experienced educator and environmental engineer, to lead the launch of a full engineering major in fall 2023.

Blackburn-Lynch will join Earlham as an assistant professor. She will collaborate with faculty from the department of Physics, Engineering and Astronomy during the spring semester to lay a foundation for the program prior to the first class of engineering students beginning in August.

“In addition to her significant experience in the academy, Whitney brings considerable expertise to Earlham as an engineering consultant and public servant,” said Tara Natarajan, Earlham’s provost and vice president for academic affairs. “Her well-rounded approach to teaching, research and a love of mentoring and program development for engineering, will be an asset to our students.”

Blackburn-Lynch comes to Earlham from the University of Kentucky in Lexington, where she has been a lecturer, instructor and research assistant since 2012. She helped develop the curriculum for the university’s first-year engineering program. She also worked to help high school students transition to college with a sense of belonging, and introduced them to the wide variety of engineering disciplines.

Previously, Blackburn-Lynch served as a senior environmental engineer for Environmental Resource Management Consultants in Lexington and as an environmental engineer for the Commonwealth of Kentucky and Hall & Associates, Inc. in Versailles, Ky.

She earned her Ph.D. in biosystems and agricultural engineering from the University of Kentucky in 2016. She holds a Master of Science of Environmental Engineering from Duke University and a Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics from Berea College.

She was ordained as an interfaith minister from the International Seminary for Interfaith Studies in 2012.

“In the United States, less than 20 percent of tenure or tenure-track faculty in engineering are women, and we are fortunate to have hired such an accomplished professor to bring this new program to life,” says Earlham President Anne Houtman. “I’m delighted that Whitney is also a Quaker and a liberal arts graduate. She embodies the ‘Engineering for Good’ ethos of our new major, which is focused on addressing systemic inequities in the field and in the greater world.”

Blackburn-Lynch’s approach to teaching and engineering is squarely centered in the depth and breadth of the liberal arts, Natarajan notes.

“Whitney understands social, human and environmental systems. She speaks and practices the language of holistic approach to problem-solving,” Natarajan said. “It is not often that we hear engineers articulate the need to go beyond technical and production efficiency, but Whitney does exactly that.

“She sees beyond notions of efficiency and towards what people are willing and able to do,” she said. “She centers her work on creating a shift in the cultural narrative towards understanding science, human nature, and work towards sustainability and the common good.” 

Earlham’s vision for an “Engineering for Good” program was attractive to Blackburn-Lynch when she was considering the next steps in her career.

“When I started working for the University of Kentucky to help develop a first-year engineering program, I began to have dreams of teaching engineering at an institution exactly like Earlham,” Blackburn-Lynch said. “What better place is there to solve some of the serious problems of the world than at a school that looks at the many dimensions of humanity from the science to the social to the artistic? 

“I am very excited to get to bring my passion for engineering and problem-solving to Earlham,” she said. “I am looking forward to developing a program that will appeal to students who also want to solve global challenges through understanding not only the technical side of design, but also the people we are trying to help.”

Joining Earlham’s nationally recognized pre-engineering program, the full engineering major will build upon the College’s traditional strengths in physics, computer science, mathematics, environmental sustainability and the liberal arts to create a distinctive curriculum.

The major is intended to appeal to a diverse range of students, including those who have been historically underrepresented in engineering. With a focus on design for a better, more sustainable and equitable world, engineering students at Earlham will benefit from the kind of broad perspective, strong communication skills, and critical thinking that only a liberal arts environment can foster.

Though the program is broadly constructed it has also been designed with future accreditation in mind. Earlham professors are working with the Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology so that the necessary steps are taken to ensure full accreditation of the first cohort of engineering graduates.

“With the addition of a full engineering major, we are positioned to become one of only a handful of national liberal arts colleges to make four-year engineering degrees available to students,” Houtman said. “By building on our existing strengths in the sciences and excellence in classroom teaching, we are poised to inspire students to envision and create a better future through their work.”

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