5 Questions with Kelly Mack

5 Questions with Kelly Mack

Dr. Kelly Mack

ALBANY, N.Y. (May 26, 2020) — A national expert on diversity in STEM will offer the UAlbany community insight into best practices in a workshop at 2 p.m. on May 28.

Kelly Mack, PhD, vice president for Undergraduate STEM Education for the Association of American Colleges & Universities in Washington, D.C., will offer a virtual meeting that day. The workshop advances the University's priorities of diversity and inclusion.

Mack is also executive director of Project Kaleidoscope at the AAC&U. Prior to joining AAC&U, Mack was the Senior Program Director for the National Science Foundation ADVANCE Program while on loan from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore where, as a professor of biology, she taught courses in physiology and endocrinology for 17 years.

Register here for the workshop, which is sponsored by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

Q: Can you tell us a little about your presentation “That None Shall Perish?"

The title is related to my work in reforming undergraduate STEM education. The idea is that we cannot hope to have full and complete reform if significant portions of the undergraduate population are disenfranchised and disempowered in their pursuit of the STEM degree.

Since leaving my faculty position, this work has been extended to STEM faculty and the process of ensuring that all STEM faculty are empowered to educate and train every STEM student that is before them, not the ones that they’ve already constructed narratives about. Sometimes those narratives can be wrong. And not the ones they wish they had. Sometimes those wishes are not based in reality. Rather, my work is intended to ensure that my colleagues are equipped with all of the expanded capacities and competencies necessary for today’s undergraduate STEM student.

Q: How will this subject advance the diversity and inclusion strategy of UAlbany?

I think I answered this in the first question. In other words, there can be no complete reform of undergraduate STEM reform unless we pay attention not only to what works, but for whom does it work and under what conditions might it work best for them.

Q: How does a traditionally white and male STEM department or discipline transform itself into one where women and people of color feel welcome and supported?

I feel very strongly that there is no magic list, no protocol, no procedure to follow to create or hold a welcoming space for anyone. The desire and skill to do so comes from within. If we are not willing to do the necessary work of reflection and introspection to admit our biases and come to terms with our limitations about dealing with race and inequity then we can never hope for STEM higher education to be a welcoming place. The responsibility to do this kind of work lies within each of us.

Q: On a personal note, what's the last book you read for fun?

For fun, I still like to watch trash TV. It is a habit that I learned from my own students, all of whom were either biology or chemistry majors. In order to better relate to them and to their world, I studied what they liked and enjoyed. It turned out to be an effective strategy to deepen my skillset in intrusive advising.

In doing so, I developed an appreciation for mindless TV. In the end, it was so worth it. Over 90 percent of my advisees went on to complete the STEM doctoral degree. And I have a bad habit that I enjoy even until this day.

Q: How do you stay positive and motivated during this time of COVID-19?

I look for opportunities to show up in ways that will reinforce STEM faculty in the reform work that they are doing. Sometimes it means coaching them, sometimes providing words of encouragement, reminding them of the progress they’ve made and how much easier next semester will be because of the internal work they’ve done on themselves before now. Sometimes it means just listening to the first world problems of tenured STEM faculty, extending compassion, and reminding us both of how fortunate and privileged we are to have the problems that we have.