Diversity: The Art of Thinking Independently Together

Engineering students at conferenceStudent Blog by LSU SPE Chapter

Malcom Forbes once said, “Diversity: the art of thinking independently together.” This quote sums up perfectly a term that has been very important to companies, colleges and organizations for the last decade.

Diversity is a broad term that can be thought of in terms of training, background, nationality, race, religion, sexual preference and gender. But why is it so incredibly important to companies? Because when people think differently, they approach problems differently, and this can make all the difference when trying to come up with innovative ideas or creative solutions. In short, diversity provides a unique edge in competitive environments.

For such an important topic, I knew very little about diversity until I came to LSU nearly four years ago. I grew up in a small town about two hours outside of Atlanta. It had 10 stoplights, and you could drive completely through it in about 20 minutes. As you can imagine, it was not a very diverse town.

So when I came to LSU, it was a little shocking how vastly different people could be. I met people from all over the United States and the world. Each had their own experiences to share. I never could have imagined how these experiences would shape me and help me grow as a person and as a professional.

As a petroleum engineer at LSU, I have been involved with SPE since I was a freshman. Of all my experiences at LSU, I have gained my greatest appreciation for diversity through this organization. From LSU SPE, I have gained a few best friends, an incredible senior project group, and the ability to work with some of the best officers LSU SPE has seen in some time. What do these three things have in common? They all started by being a member of SPE and involve interacting with very different people.

Friends are important. Getting through college without at least a few good ones is difficult. Two of my best friends, I met at the very first meeting I attended. I remember walking in, not really knowing anyone, and sitting next to a guy named Adam from Zanzibar, Africa, and a guy named Austin from Houston. Next thing I knew, we were lost in conversation about where we were from and how things were back home. After the meeting, we stayed to grab food at the social and have been best friends ever since.

Over the years, they have given me perspective and insight that I could not have found from someone back home. It has taught me a lot about appreciating cultures and how where you are from really does change your approach to various tasks. When studying together, Adam, Austin, and I have all tried to solve the same problem, but our approaches are rarely the same. These different ways of doing the same thing are invaluable and something you cannot always find in those similar to you.

In the case of my senior project class, I am a member of a highly diverse team. This diversity has contributed ideas and value that we would have never had access to. Our group consists of Shelby, a Baptist, Caucasian female from Jackson, Miss.; Adam, a Muslim, African man from Zanzibar, Tanzania; Corey, a Catholic, Latino man from New Orleans; and Spencer, a Presbyterian, Caucasian man from Power Springs, Ga. Our team is a mixture of races, religions, genders, and cultures; and these differences are what make it so well-rounded.

Since Adam taught high-level physics and math while he was in Africa, his background made him perfect to be our simulation leader and to take charge of figuring out the hairy details and nuances of simulations.

Corey grew up in New Orleans, where he learned a lot about finance and how to interface with professionals. His background made him the ideal choice to take charge of the financial element and company interactive part of our project.

Shelby grew up in the deep south in Mississippi, where she was expected to help organize and keep up with her family; because of this, she is extremely organized. She worked as our project secretary and helped us keep track of meeting minutes, write and organize all of our information, and keep us on track to meet deadlines.

Finally, growing up I held many jobs and had several leadership roles along the way. My background allowed me to fill a leadership role for our team where I knew about all aspects of the project and helped where I was needed most. I also helped us reach the final decisions on our project goals and objectives.

Each member was extremely valuable to overall team success, and each member contributed something unique and different and meaningful. Together, we combined our strengths and canceled out our weaknesses, and it is all thanks to our diverse backgrounds and skillsets. Thankfully, we met each other before senior project through SPE, otherwise such a great team might never have been possible.

Finally, SPE has given me the opportunity to work with one of the best and most diverse leadership teams I have ever been a part of. There are members working on the team from all over North America, South America, Europe, and Asia. All of these perspectives and talents make our team so effective and unique. I can stay that in my two years of involvement with LSU SPE, I have grown in so many ways. I am more culturally sensitive, I am a better communicator, and I am a more well-rounded leader than I was two years ago. I attribute these changes, in large part, directly to LSU SPE. I would not be where I am today without my membership and participation in the organization, and I would not have nearly as strong a grasp on the importance of diversity.

In the end, improving diversity is an ongoing issue that has plagued many industries for decades. There have been a lot of changes in the past to help spur diversity, but it is still not where it needs to be -- especially in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The best way to continue improving diversity is through the involvement of organizations like SPE that allow students and professionals to see its value firsthand.

By Spencer King, SPE member