Climate Committees Making Advances in Diversity and Inclusion

Key figures in the University's strategic initiative on diversity and inclusion: Paul Millard, chair of the CEAS Climate Committee, at left, and psychologist Elana Gordis, chair of the Psychology group within the CAS Climate Committee, at right, with Kelly Mack, center, VP for Undergraduate STEM Education at the Association of American Colleges & Universities, who will lead a best practices workshop at University on May 28.

ALBANY, N.Y. (May 8, 2020) — President Rodríguez’s commitment to advancing the University’s diversity and inclusion strategic priorities — a commitment reaffirmed in his April 29 Spring Address — is being translated into action by nine climate committees formed by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI) in collaboration with UAlbany college deans.

Representing colleges and other units at UAlbany, these groups are creating initiatives that examine their current progress on diversity and inclusion, both in relation to other units on campus and similar units outside at other institutions. The committees’ shared goals: Identify their challenges and formulate corrective actions that move each unit and the entire campus forward.

Chief Diversity Officer and Assistant Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion Tamra Minor points to two of the units — the colleges of Arts and Sciences (CAS) and Engineering and Applied Sciences (CEAS) — as exemplars in this effort.

“These colleges’ climate committees have identified appropriate team members, collaborated and networked with relevant campus units, enlisted speakers and experts to guide their progress, identified appropriate training, reviewed policies and procedures, and made recommendations for best practices,” said Minor. 

“All of this initial work helps them build foundations they can use as they begin to make change. It’s one thing for someone from the Office of Diversity and Inclusion to come in and say ‘do this,’ or ‘here is your problem,’ but it’s different when you get the opportunity to look internally and determine with your other colleagues how to move forward. Of course, ODI is available to help guide the process, assist with setting direction, keep the groups focused and forward-moving and sharing best practices.”

CAS’ Exemplar Efforts

Jeanette Altarriba, interim dean of CAS, pointed to the advancement of CAS’s individual departments in creating climate groups within their disciplines, such as:

  • Psychology. Through the help of student majors, it created a brochure for incoming students that speaks to diversity on the campus. It also formed a ongoing working group that meets regularly to discuss diversity-related issues. “This ends up creating a more supportive environment,” said Elana Gordis, chair of the group. “And thinking about these issues does make us better. This year, we successfully recruited a Carson Carr recipient to the incoming Clinical Psychology PhD cohort.”
  • Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences. It is now an American Geophysical Union Bridge Program member, which provides a pathway for recruitment of individuals in underrepresented groups into the graduate program. It also partners with Significant Opportunities in Atmospheric Research and Science (SOARS) to create networking events between DAES and SOARS students. “One of our main goals is to develop a mentoring program targeted specifically for students in underrepresented groups that helps them develop communication, scientific and research skills,” said Associate Professor Brian Tang.
  • The RNA Institute. Building on the goals of its NIH-supported RNA Graduate Fellows Program, the Institute is recruiting underrepresented groups to its undergraduate summer research program, which will be a distance experience this summer due to COVID-19. A cohort of 20 students from UAlbany and other universities will be analyzing data from the Institute's COVID-19 projects. The majority of the students are Interested in graduate school and will receive mentoring to excel.
  • Biological Sciences. Led by Assistant Professor Cara Pager, the department has worked closely with diverse student groups on training in research endeavors, and this has led to major awards and prizes.

“In addition,” said Altarriba, “our climate committee is planning an academic fair this fall across all CAS departments to provide information to all students, and in particular those from underrepresented groups, so that they might choose to transition into our graduate programs, right here at UAlbany.”

Engineering an Inclusion Environment

At CEAS, Paul Millard, professor of practice, director of New Program Development and chair of the College’s three-member climate committee, said his group is working to frame a focused set of questions regarding the current climate of CEAS in respect to diversity and inclusion. As it collects pertinent demographic and survey data from faculty, staff and students, it compares itself with engineering programs in other similar universities.

“One important area of study is the relative diversity of the student population as compared with the faculty and staff, and whether there are issues that should be addressed,” said Millard. “Our goal is to analyze our performance against other engineering programs and determine what constitutes the ideal condition for our institution and program. This work will help us identify any issues in need of correction and to set priorities for specific future action and establishment of best practices.”

The work of the climate committees is further guided by educational programs to help participants advance their work, including the May 28 virtual event, That None Shall Perish: Best Practices Workshop, featuring Kelly M. Mack, former senior program director for the National Science Foundation’s ADVANCE program and current vice president for Undergraduate STEM Education and executive director of Project Kaleidoscope at the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

President Rodríguez applauded the progress of the Climate Committees, pointing to how they will complement his newly appointed Diversity and Inclusive Excellence Task Force. The group is charged with examining UAlbany’s organizational structures, programs, and services in support of diversity and inclusion. The task force will be informed by the strategic plan of the Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Planning Committee.

“The task force will create a comprehensive inventory of our grant programs, faculty cultural training competencies, inter-cultural student group trainings, and micro-aggression and implicit bias programming,” said Rodríguez. He noted that the task force will submit recommendations for change in a report to the President’s Executive Council by December 31.

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