Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering recently inducted new members into the Academy of Engineering Excellence, including a mining and minerals engineering alumna Bevlee Watford.

The 2022 inductees were selected from the more than 74,000 living Virginia Tech engineering alumni and brings the academy to a total of 173 members. Academy members have made sustained contributions in engineering and leadership throughout their accomplished careers.

“Our academy inductees have cultivated careers of distinction in their respective fields, nourished by the spirit of Ut Prosim" (That I May Serve), said Julia M. Ross, the Paul and Dorothea Torgersen Dean of Engineering. “As esteemed alumni, they have demonstrated what is achievable through passion, perseverance, and the enduring principles of a Virginia Tech engineering education.”

Watford, director of the Virginia Tech Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Diversity and three-time alumna of the university began her career with a bachelor's degree in mining and minerals engineering. She went on to earn master's and doctoral degrees in industrial engineering and operations research from Virginia Tech.

Watford is an engineering education pioneer. Her impact on Virginia Tech engineering has spanned almost three decades. In 1992, Watford founded the Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Diversity (CEED). The center provides programs in pre-college and K-12 STEM programs, living-learning communities, and peer mentoring, which have successfully increased the college’s enrollment, retention, and graduation rates.

Watford credits Paul Torgersen, former president of Virginia Tech and dean of the College of Engineering from 1970-90, and Barbara Pendergrass, dean of students from 1998-2003, as inspirational figures for her both academically as a student and later professionally when she returned to Virginia Tech as an associate professor in 1992. Torgersen “gave me a job as a TA [teaching assistant] when I had no money and became a lifelong mentor,” Watford said. “Pendergrass was someone who particularly cared about the Black students. She worked hard to connect us and help us be successful.”

In 2004, Watford saw her career flourish. She received $2 million in National Science Foundation funding to expand CEED programs and was promoted to full professor in engineering education. This made her the first Black woman to be promoted to professor in the College of Engineering, and she is now the first Black woman to be inducted into the Virginia Tech Academy of Engineering Excellence.

Notable recognitions also include becoming the first African American female president of the American Society of Engineering Education and receiving the 2022 Black Engineer of the Year award for Educational Leadership. 

The College of Engineering established the academy in 1999 under the direction of Dean Emeritus F. William Stephenson and the college's advisory board.