Diversity in STEM Symposium Highlights Current Best Practices

Panelists on stage at the 2nd annual Diversity in STEM Symposium

The phrase “Diversity in STEM” brings many thoughts to mind. “STEM,” an acronym commonly heard at NC State, serves as shorthand for many of our strengths — science, technology, engineering and math, encompassing many fields within our world-class engineering and scientific disciplines.

But the “Diversity” part may prompt questions. How are we, as a university, doing in regard to the diversity of our students and faculty in STEM fields? What is the national situation? Where are we headed? Are we making progress? And perhaps more importantly, what are we doing to create an inclusive environment to ensure both the short-term and long-term success of our diverse community members?

The second Diversity in STEM Symposium, hosted by the College of Sciences on Feb. 5, 2020, answered all of these questions and more. Held in Talley Student Union, the Symposium drew over 200 faculty, staff, students and external participants to a tightly-organized half-day event packed with learning opportunities and current best practices.

With sponsor BASF Corporation and partners including the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, the College of Natural Resources, the College of Veterinary Medicine, the GLBT Center and Women in Science and Engineering (WISE), the College of Sciences offered a welcome breakfast, two blocks of concurrent sessions, poster presentations, and lunch with a closing keynote.

An early session included “Counter Spaces: The Importance of Spaces that Support Marginalized Identities.” Co-facilitated by Delisha Hinton, associate director of student services in the Wilson College of Textiles and Bri Hart, assistant director of WISE, the session explored the concept of the “counter space,” which moves beyond the concept of the “safe space” to empower students in ways beyond simply offering safety; the “counter space” centers the experiences of marginalized identities, discarding traditional power structures and enabling marginalized communities to not only thrive but to lead.

Additional early sessions included “Global STEM Stories: Tales from Students’ Study Abroad Experiences” with Kory Saunders, assistant director for strategic marketing, diversity and inclusion, and Maura McCarthy, international programs coordinator, both from the Study Abroad Office; “Inclusion in Advising” with Jordan McMican, senior academic advisor, Poole College of Management; and “Respecting Culture in STEM Research” with Madhusudan Katti, associate professor, leadership in public science, Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources.

After poster presentations, the afternoon session included “The Value of Creating Neurodiverse Spaces,” a panel of students and professionals facilitated by Wesley Wade, career counselor in the NC State Career Development Center. Still an emerging field of diversity and inclusion, neurodiversity initiatives recognize the talent and potential of individuals who may be on the autism spectrum or have other neurological needs that could be better served through greater understanding and modifications to the learning and hiring processes, often resulting in gains for both the individuals and the organizations.

The second block also offered an alumni panel titled, “Being ____ in STEM,” With Nury Castro, ‘16, ‘18, assistant director of community engagement and service, Georgia Gwinnett College, Kevin Clark, ‘88, ‘91, professor of learning technologies and founding director, Center for Digital Media Innovation and Diversity, George Mason University; Andrea Duhon, ‘05, assistant professor of mathematics at Marshall University; Zakiya Leggett, ‘04, assistant professor, NC State Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources; and Noah Riley, ‘19, research technician at Duke University. (See photo above.)

“Inclusive Communication” with Elizabeth Nelson, teaching associate professor, Department of Communication, and “Building Inclusivity by Breaking Artificial Barriers,” led by Jane Lubsicher, associate head, Department of Biological Sciences, rounded out the later sessions.

Closing the symposium, Christina Chang, principal of Christina Chang Equity Consulting, gave the keynote address. Chang’s remarks began with an examination of national data indicating that the STEM fields exist within a dichotomy of offering well-paying jobs within industries experiencing tremendous growth but at the same time falling far short of equitable representation. Chang showed current examples, both good and bad, of organizations and media attempting to address inequities and offered concrete strategies for working toward change in our continually evolving society.

Symposium organizer Jamila Simpson says, “Several years ago we had the dream of organizing an event that would focus on diversity issues in STEM that would be open to the greater NC State community and the public. We would have sessions that would be geared towards students, faculty and staff. We wanted there to be a place for everyone and for everyone to feel welcome. With critical support from BASF, the dream was able to become a reality.

I am so grateful to Caren Schmidt from BASF for championing the event, to the amazing colleagues and students who presented and to the NC State community and beyond for supporting the event. I also could not have done this without all of the volunteers and the amazing planning team which includes Shaefny Grays, associate director, Diversity and Inclusion, College of Natural Resources; Lindsay Topping, director of alumni and donor relations, College of Sciences; and Myisshia Baldwin, administrative support specialist, College of Sciences.” Simpson is assistant dean for academic programs, student diversity and engagement in the College of Sciences.

Elizabeth Snively writes for the Office for Institutional Equity and Diversity.