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Bevlee A. Watford

Bevlee Watford

B.S., Mining Engineering, 1981
M.S., Industrial Engineering and Operations Research, 1983
Ph.D., Industrial Engineering and Operations Research, 1985
Induction year: 2022

With three degrees earned from Virginia Tech, Bevlee A. Watford carries a special distinction: a triple Hokie.

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 to 1990, and Barbara Pendergrass, dean of students from 1998 to 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 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 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. 

Current town:
Blacksburg, Virginia

Smithtown, New York

Professional roles:

  • Associate Dean, Equity and Engagement, College of Engineering, Virginia Tech, 2019-present
  • Founding Executive Director, Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Diversity (CEED), Virginia Tech, 1992-present
  • Professor, Engineering Education, College of Engineering, Virginia Tech, 2004-present
  • Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, 2015-2019, 2011-2013, 2007-2010, 1997-2005
  • Director, The Joseph F. Ware, Jr. Advanced Engineering Lab, Virginia Tech, 2015-present
  • Program Director for Broadening Participation, Division of Engineering Education and Centers, National Science Foundation, 2013-2015
  • Interim Department Head, Engineering Education, Virginia Tech, 2010-2011
  • Program Director, Division of Undergraduate Education, National Science Foundation, 2005-2007
  • Associate Professor, Industrial and Systems Engineering, Virginia Tech, 1992-2004
  • Associate Professor of Industrial Engineering, Clemson University, 1990-1992
  • Assistant Professor of Industrial Engineering, Clemson University, 1985-1990

Corporate board roles:

  • Vice President External Affairs, 2013-2015 
  • Chair, Professional Interest Council IV 2010-2013
  • Women in Engineering Division, Chair, Program Chair, and Treasurer, 2002-2010
  • Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
  • National Association of Minority Engineering Program Administrators
  • Sigma Xi Scientific Society

Volunteer board roles:

  • American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE), President, 2017-2018; President-Elect, 2016-2017
  • CoNECD (Collaborative Network for Engineering and Computing Diversity) Conference Program Chair, 2018 – 2023

Volunteer or personal awards:

  • Black Engineer of the Year, Educator Award, 2022
  • TMS Ellen Swallow Richards Diversity Award, 2018
  • NACME Rising Star Institutional Award, 2017
  • NAMEPA President’s Award, 2012
  • Fellow, American Society for Engineering Education, 2010
  • ABET Clair Felbinger Award, 2010
  • NSBE-ExxonMobil Impact Award, 2010

Why did you decide to come to Virginia Tech?
I was looking for an engineering school I could afford that was located someplace warmer than New York. I thought all of Virginia was warm all the time. My guidance counselor had sent a couple of people I knew here and they loved it. My first visit was at orientation and I thought it was the most absolutely picture perfect vision of what a college was supposed to look like.

How did you decide what to major in at Virginia Tech?
I was planning on civil engineering. My role model was Theodore Klug, my best friend's father who was in construction. When I got to Tech, a friend convinced me to go with him to the mining engineering information session. I was sold - it was the most fascinating thing I had ever seen. The equipment was bigger and better.

What’s one of your favorite memories from Virginia Tech?
Two things. I failed fluid mechanics my third year of school. Because of that, I had to take a really good look at myself and what I was doing. I learned to ask for help and to listen that what I was told. I made Dean's List that next quarter and never looked back.

I got married in the Chapel. I met my husband here at Virginia Tech. By the time we decided to get married, neither of us had been living in one place for very long. My family was all over the place as was his. The only place we could think of that made sense for us was here in Blacksburg. It was a wonderful celebration with family and friends. And again, we have never looked back.

As a Virginia Tech student, did you hold a scholarship, assistantship, or fellowship? If so, what did it provide for you and what was the impact of it on your life?
Mining engineering made certain each student received a scholarship. Literally, the department head walked into the into class and asked who was not currently receiving scholarship funds. I raised my hand along with several others. He said come with me. And he gave us scholarships. As I was paying my own way through school this was something amazing to me.

What led you to your chosen profession?
When I took a faculty position at Clemson University, my office became a magnet for the women and Black students. They wanted advice, counseling, sometimes just an ear. I found that what I really wanted to do was help engineering students do better and have a better experience than I had. So, I made up my mind to leave Clemson and find something else. I looked in the ASEE magazine and saw the ad for a new position at Virginia Tech - director of Minority Engineering Programs. I applied the next day.

How have you utilized your Virginia Tech degree in your career?
The organizational skills I learned in Industrial Engineering and Operations Research have helped me create something lasting here in the College of Engineering. The discipline required to earn an engineering degree, the difficulty I had in learning how to be a better student - it all clicked when I started working here. All I had to do was create an experience that addressed all of the challenges I had as a student. Fitting in socially, finding my academic attitude, managing my time - all that and more.

What advice would you share with your younger self just starting off in your career?
Believe in yourself. Do not let others set expectations. You are better than you think. Listen more and talk less.

What charitable organizations do you currently support and why?
Resources for those experiencing domestic violence like The Women's Shelter. Because I have known people who have had to live through that and these services help them change their lives for the better.

Is there a current college initiative that you are passionate about and would like to see it have success?
We are now focusing on graduate student success. I hope that the programs we implement for graduate students are as successful as the programs we have for pre-college and undergraduate students.

We also are seeking to improve the work-life balance for all faculty and staff in the College with a focus on those with particular circumstances such as aging parents, children or health concerns.

Please note: Inductee spotlight is as of their year of their induction.