Celebrating Diversity - Sidney Matthias

  • Sidney Matthias and a group of engineering friends show off their "Best of the Midwest" awards.

Celebrating Diversity

June: PRIDE Month

In the College of Engineering, all are welcome. To better share the stories of how our faculty, staff, students and alumni are diverse in their many varying forms, we are celebrating various heritage and other nationally recognized months. This recognition will include stories about those in our greater engineering community, as well as sharing events and other opportunities.

Sidney Matthias

Sidney Matthias

Student, Civil Engineering

Name, Hometown, Pronouns, and any Identity/-ies you wish to share that are relevant to Pride Month.

Hometown: Omaha, Nebraska
Pronouns: she/her
Identities: Lesbian

Q: Describe a bit about your personal and/or professional background.

A: I am a third year Civil Engineering major, with an emphasis on water resources. I actually chose to major in engineering on an impulse decision. My friends in high school were majoring in engineering, and I figured since we like a lot of the same things, I would like engineering. I picked civil engineering while filling out college applications without knowing anything about the field. When I got to CIVE 112: Introduction to Civil Engineering, I learned about environmental and water resources engineering. I have always been passionate about sustainability, but now that I have moved through my college career, I am most passionate about clean water access throughout the world. I’m really fortunate that the major I picked in a spontaneous college application moment was the one for me!

This summer, I am participating in the college’s Partners in Pollution Prevention Program, with Dr. Bruce Dvorak and Dr. Robert Williams. In this program, I was assigned to work at Becton Dickinson, and Company in Columbus, Nebraska as an environmental intern. As an intern, I’m working on recycling streams, solar panel installation, and wastewater treatment projects. Working in sustainable technology has been both exciting and rewarding to me. It has been a great experience to work in the field and see where my degree will take me in the future. After I graduate with my bachelor's degree, I hope to pursue Professional Engineering licensure.

Q: What is your role in the College of Engineering – and what do you enjoy (love!) about what you are doing? This can include groups you are involved in.

A: Last year I worked as a Women in Engineering Pathway Program mentor. The Women in Engineering Pathway is a scholarship and mentorship program to create community within a cohort of freshmen women in the college of engineering. I worked both as a student teaching assistant for ENGR 10: Freshmen Seminar and a peer mentor. I loved guiding those women through their transition into college and seeing where their freshmen year took them.

I also have worked as an Engineering Readiness Academy Peer Coach for another group of incoming freshmen. It was exciting to introduce them to the university as new students. We toured campus, talked about possible classes they would have, and learned a lot about student organizations within the college. I loved seeing them find things to look forward to within their college careers. In both those peer mentorship positions, I found the most rewarding thing was that I was able to celebrate with them throughout the year as they passed classes, were accepted into research, or elected to leadership positions.

The biggest role I play on campus is within the college’s Engineering Student Advisory Board (eSAB). I’ve had too many great opportunities within this organization to name them all. Some of them include going to the Regional Midwest National Student Engineering Council Conference at the University of Notre Dame my freshman year. UNL won the ‘Best in the Midwest’ award at that conference! I also worked as the Outreach Committee Chair this past year. Upcoming next semester, I will be the Vice President of Membership on the Executive Leadership Team in eSAB. One of the biggest tasks ahead of me in this position is bringing a sense of community back to the council after a year of online meetings. I think it is obvious with the previous responsibilities I’ve taken in college; I’m excited for the role.

Q: What does Pride mean to you, especially as a member of the College of Engineering community?

A: Pride to me is about uplifting the people around you. Being a part of the LGBTQIA+ community, I learned one of the most powerful things you can do for other people is to support them unconditionally. Some people in this community are proud to tell others who they are. Some are doing that for the first time. Trying to figure out who you are or how you fit into the College of Engineering is a daunting task. Pride on campus is the promise of having a community that will understand you for who you are!

I also think Pride is about challenging yourself, the people around you, and the organizations you are in to speak out. Pride started as a riot to protest the treatment of LGBTQIA+ people. It is a great privilege to have Pride be a celebration now, but there is still a lot of work to be done in terms of rights and acceptance for the LGBTQIA+ community. Having the college celebrate Pride creates a strong presence against bigotry and hatred. I’m grateful that the stories on this page will show LGBTQIA+ people they have a place inside of the college!

Q: How do you bring your own unique background to your role/responsibilities in the college or your professional life?

A: Most of the roles I play in the College of Engineering are about creating community and uplifting the people around me. I think this kind of skill is intrinsic to all LGBTQIA+ people. There haven’t always been guarantees that the places or situations I go into will be accepting to me as a lesbian. When this happened, I had to work to find like-minded people. Making connections and fostering relationships like that is what all LGBTQIA+ communities have done throughout history. I’ve learned from those experiences that the things that make us different are the things to be celebrated. I’ve taken that perspective into my roles throughout the college.

Q: How can others in the engineering community (on and off campus) be allies to you and others in the LGBTQIA+ community?

A: To be an ally to the LGBTQIA+ community, the most important thing you can do is spread acceptance. Something to remember about celebrating Pride is that we wouldn’t have Pride if the treatment of LGBTQIA+ people in this country has been great throughout history. Even today, there are fights for acceptance in this state. On campus, using people’s correct pronouns, going to the Women’s and LGBTQIA+ Center’s events, and showing support for community-based student clubs like oSTEM establish positive relationships with allies.

Some of the College of Engineering’s greatest assets are the Recognized Student Organizations (RSOs). These RSOs have a variety of purposes within the college. Some are design teams, some are research based, and others are community based. Like I previously mentioned, oSTEM is a community based RSO. A couple other examples are the Society of Hispanic Engineers and the Society of Women Engineers. Community based clubs are especially important to the college as they celebrate the diversity of the students in engineering, as well as find a place to meet people who are going through similar college experiences. Other RSOs can follow in the example of creating a more accepting space for all kinds of students. To be an ally, focus on welcoming people from all types of backgrounds. An increase in diversity and inclusion efforts lead to more positive student experiences!