Lisa Norwood '86 '95MW

Dedicated to increasing diversity

Lisa Norwood ’86, ’95 (MW) is clearly revved up as she checks to be sure some 400 graduating seniors are ready to file into Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre for the Hajim School diploma ceremony.

Graduating seniors enthusiastically exchange high fives with her. The assistant dean for undergraduate studies—herself an alumna of the engineering school—has been preparing for this moment for months.

Organizing the school’s commencement activities each year is a major commitment for Norwood—but not the only one by any means.

With a staff of five, she is responsible for setting strategic priorities, monitoring student progress, enforcing academic standards, reviewing petitions and appeals, providing academic counseling, and acting as an advocate for student concerns and needs with the faculty and administration—all in support of nearly 1,800 undergraduate engineering students.

This includes serving as the faculty advisor for undecided engineering students; promoting academic opportunities such as study abroad, internships, and the NAE Grand Challenges Scholars program; and keeping abreast of faculty and departmental policies, then interpreting them for students.

And she is dedicated to increasing the number of women and students of color studying science, engineering, and technology. The STEM-Gems program she designed dramatically increased the retention of low-income, first-generation, and underrepresented racial minority students in the Hajim School and earned a Meliora Award from the University in 2016.

“Lisa is an outstanding member of the Hajim team. She is knowledgeable about every aspect of the different engineering degree programs, and she is dedicated to helping our students succeed,” says Hajim School Dean Wendi Heinzelman. “Her commitment to ensuring access to all students and to enabling different on-ramps into engineering, such as through the development of new clusters that are attractive to students from a variety of backgrounds, ensure that the Hajim School continues to move forward in positive ways.”

A ‘doer,’ not a ‘talker’

Norwood, who grew up in Kingston, NY on the Hudson River, at one time wanted to be a forest ranger. She later became interested in coastal shore management while earning her BS in geomechanical engineering at the University.

She received the 1986 Fanny R. Bigelow Prize, one of the University’s highest awards for student service by women, in recognition of distinguished achievement in both academic and extracurricular activities.

She was cited for her “energy, gregariousness, and organizational skills” as coordinator of the 1985 Freshmen Orientation Program. As a Wilson Scholar, she did research at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts and at the West Indies Laboratory in St. Croix.

She served as a minority peer counselor, a member of the Meridian Society, was a member of the varsity cross-country team, and a record holder and co-captain on the track team. She was “characterized as a ‘doer’ not a talker.”

 “Winning the Fannie Bigelow award was one of the highlights of my collegiate career,” Norwood says.  “I always felt privileged to be able to attend a school of UR’s caliber, knowing full well that Black and female students were not always welcome here.

“It was really cool to win an award named after someone who fought so hard to get students like myself admitted to Rochester. I still feel a sense of pride each year when these prizes are given to hard-working undergraduate women, and believe that it’s an obligation on my part to make sure deserving students are nominated.”

‘Always willing to volunteer’

Though Norwood’s subsequent path did not include coastal water management, she later returned to the University, planning to earn a teaching degree while working as an academic advisor with the College Center for Advising Services.

“I had never stepped foot in an advising office as a student, but I loved working with students,” Norwood says.

It was a turning point.

Norwood switched to a master’s in higher education administration, completed her degree in 1995, and became assistant dean that year.

“It’s not what I planned originally,” Norwood says. “But I would like to think that Judith Walk, my counterpoint when I was an undergraduate, would be proud of what I’ve become.”

The University and the Hajim School are certainly proud of her.

She received the school’s outstanding staff award in 2003 and the Dottie Welch Award in 2021; she was a University Witmer Award winner in 2008.

Especially noteworthy have been her unceasing efforts—in addition to what she has done as an assistant dean—to attract and retain young women and underrepresented minority students in engineering. These efforts have included:

  • Directing the University’s Women in Science and Engineering (UR WISE) program.
  • Starting a daylong workshop to assist Girl Scouts of Genesee Valley (GSGV) members with earning their Science in Action badges, and to encourage the girls to pursue their interest in science. In 2005, the GSGV recognized Norwood’s impact on young women with their Women of Influence Award, calling her “an exemplary role model for today’s girls.”
  • Partnering with the community group Baden Street Settlement to show 26 Rochester City School high school students the wonders of science and technology.
  • Bringing the FIRST LEGO League Tournament to Rochester. The tournament attracts more than 500 middle school students to campus each December to compete in a giant Lego-based engineering challenge.

“Lisa is always willing to volunteer her personal time to promote engineering to precollege students, whether it’s by attending career fairs, making classroom visits, or hosting school groups on campus,” said Kevin Parker when he was dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “In fact, she keeps a storage closet full of old appliances so the kids can take them apart to see how they work.”

Perhaps most telling are the testimonials like this one from the students Norwood has guided.

“As an undecided engineering major, I was assigned to Lisa Norwood as my academic advisor freshman year. She has had, and continues to have, a profound impact on my life,” said Jaymi Della ’06 who earned a BS in biomedical engineering and is now a patent examiner with the US Patent and Trademark Office in Washington, D.C. “She encouraged me to explore all my interests, not just engineering. Even after I switched to a BME advisor, I still sought Lisa's advice on classes, extracurricular activities, and my personal life. Since graduating, I have turned to Lisa for both insight and guidance during each of my career transitions.”