Distinguished Engineering Educator

Lizabeth Thompson, Ph.D.

California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

For advancing equity and social justice through engineering education; for motivating students toward creating systemic change; and for decades as an inspiring role model for young engineers and colleagues alike.

Lizabeth Thompson, Ph.D., is director of general engineering and a professor of industrial and manufacturing engineering at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly), where she has taught for nearly 30 years. She has held various positions on campus, including co-director of liberal arts and engineering studies, director of women’s engineering programs, and interim associate dean of the College of Engineering.

Dr. Thompson has a history of innovative and successful teaching in industrial engineering. She developed new courses in health care and data analytics, and introduced Change Management for Technical Leaders. She has impacted hundreds of students directly in her classes and clubs by encouraging reflective dialogue about the responsibility and privilege inherent in engineering practice. Her Engineering Economy course integrates social justice into engineering topics and has been taken by 500 students.

Her research lies in engineering education, and she has received millions in funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) as either principal or co-investigator. She researches equitable classroom practices, integrated learning, and institutional change.

Dr. Thompson spent the 2019-2020 academic year at California State University, Los Angeles, where she taught and collaborated on research related to equity and social justice. With her colleagues, she received an NSF Eco-STEM grant to transfer STEM education using an asset-based ecosystem model. She is a co-principal investigator on an NSF S-STEM ENGAGE grant designed to create robust transfer pathways for community college students. Dr. Thompson is also co-principal investigator on a recently awarded NSF RED grant to transform the computer engineering department to one that “Breaks the Binary” to create a more inclusive and welcoming culture.

Dr. Thompson serves in several professional societies. As co-advisor to Engineers Without Borders, she both requires students to follow university policies and encourages learning through critical examination of the organization’s role in global development. She has participated as an American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) annual conference reviewer since 2008. From 2010 to 2012, she was the ASEE Pacific Southwest Region (PSW) membership director, and she has participated in numerous presentations and papers at PSW and ASEE conferences. Dr. Thompson helped students create an oSTEM (Out in STEM) club. The group received the Rookie Chapter of the Year award at a national conference.

As a Society of Women Engineers advisor from 1994 to 1999, she initiated outreach activities that continue today, and she served as SWE Team Tech faculty advisor for a team that received a first-place award at WE21. She was awarded the SWE Most Supportive Professor Award and was a SWE Evening with Industry keynote speaker in 2022.

Dr. Thompson holds a B.S. in industrial engineering from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo; an M.S. in industrial and systems engineering and an MBA from University of Southern California; and a Ph.D. in education from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Dr. Thompson is the mother of three amazing daughters, all accomplished in their careers and living balanced lives. She loves hiking, needlework, and puzzles.