UW System to present Otieno with Outstanding Women of Color in Education Award

UW System has awarded Wilkistar Otieno, associate professor and department chair, industrial & manufacturing engineering, with a 2022 Outstanding Women of Color in Education Award. She was selected as the UW-Milwaukee honoree for this award and will be formally recognized in a ceremony at the UW-Madison campus on Nov. 10.

This high honor is given annually to faculty, staff, students, or community members to recognize their achievements in advancing equity and inclusion for people of color within the UW System as well as communities across Wisconsin.

“I am grateful to have been nominated for this award and very humbled to receive it,” Otieno said. “The award would not have been possible were it not for the opportunity to work at UWM with very supportive colleagues and amazing students.”

When she was hired in 2010, Otieno became the first Black female faculty member at UWM’s College of Engineering & Applied Science. In 2018, she was named chair of the college’s Department of Industrial & Manufacturing Engineering, the first Black woman to hold the position. Her successful collaborations during these years with Rockwell Automation contributed to the establishment of the Connected Systems Institute at UWM.

Otieno’s respect for all students has placed her among the favorite faculty members in the college. She has distinguished herself as a passionate educator, researcher, leader, collaborator, and champion for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).

Supporting a diverse STEM workforce through efforts at UWM 

In the college and campuswide, Otieno drives positive organizational change.

Currently, she is overseeing and coordinating DEI issues at UWM; in 2021, Chancellor Mark Mone appointed her as a special assistant for DEI issues for UWM’s 2030 Action Team, which provides a framework for the university to advance student success and fulfill its mission as a research and access institution. DEI issues are one of the plan’s eight priorities.

In 2016, she secured $1 million from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to fund a program at UWM that builds diversity in the STEM fields. The program– Preparing Engineers and Computer Scientists (PECS) – has provided scholarships, mentoring, research experience and internship opportunities to 45 highly talented students from underrepresented groups, all of whom faced financial challenges. Thanks to the program, the students were able to build a community of scholars as they complete their degrees in the challenging fields of engineering and computer science.

Twenty-four PECS students have graduated since the program opened its doors in 2017 and the rest are on the path to graduation.  

In addition, Otieno is a longstanding faculty mentor for UWM’s STEM-Inspired Program, which enhances learning opportunities for students majoring in science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines.

“It has been an honor work with my student mentees and have the chance to impact their research and scholarship,” she said. “I am very proud of their accomplishments.”