Tera Jordan, Monic Behnken, Eulanda Sanders, Thelma Harding, and Gloria Jones-Johnson coordinated a workshop series aimed at improving career advancement among Iowa State graduate students and faculty of color. Photo by Ryan Riley.

Workshops aim to improve career advancement among graduate students, faculty of color

Five professional development workshops to be held during the 2016-2017 academic year aim to assist Iowa State University graduate students and faculty of color attain tenure-track positions, achieve tenure and promotion through the ranks, and prepare for academic administrative positions.

The series is a cross-campus collaboration between the College of Human Sciences, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and the Graduate College that is financed with a $5,000 grant from the ISU Women’s and Diversity Grant Program in the ISU Office of the Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion.

“Leadership within the academy is undergoing a seismic shift pertaining to diversity and inclusion,” said Reginald Stewart, Iowa State’s first vice president for diversity and inclusion. “To address the new leadership imperative, numerous national programs aimed at cultivating the next iteration of campus leaders including the presidency are emerging. This workshop series affords us the opportunity to contribute to the larger effort.”

The workshops — coordinated by five African-American women who are working to build and maintain community on campus — will focus on the experiences of scholars of color, but everyone is welcome.

“All of us were thinking about our own journeys — yes, there’s tenure and promotion, but we’re already starting to think about what’s after that,” said Tera Jordan, an assistant professor in human development and family studies. “Clearly, this is about overall success in the academy and specifically here at Iowa State.”

Valuing and celebrating diversity

About a dozen Iowa State faculty members and administrators will lead the discussion of “Sustaining the academic pipeline for graduate students and faculty of color” at the workshop series that will be held between September and April at the Memorial Union.

“Our team proposes a strategic and targeted initiative for graduate students and faculty of color to provide not only professional development, but also opportunities for interaction, support, and mentoring among group members,” the group stated in its grant application.

Dawn Bratsch-Prince, Iowa State’s associate provost for faculty, said the workshop series aligns well with the university’s priorities to increase the number of faculty, enhance the university’s research accomplishments, and ensure the quality of the student experience.

“President Leath has made clear his expectation that the university community work together to enhance our campus environment in a way that values and celebrates diversity, through recruitment of diverse faculty and students,” Bratsch-Prince said. “The workshop series is an excellent fit with our efforts by targeting more specifically the needs of our underrepresented graduate students, postdocs, and faculty.”

Enlarging pool of candidates, improving workplace environment

Nationally recognized sociologist Caroline Sotello Viernes Turner, a professor of educational leadership and policy studies at Arizona State University, in 1999 conducted a study on underrepresentation of faculty of color in the Midwest.

The study identified areas in which institutions should consider targeting their efforts.

“Interviews with faculty of color reveal that, although they plan to stay in academia, they feel isolated, lack information about tenure and promotion, find their work environments unsupportive, and struggle with gender bias, language barriers, lack of mentorship, and lack of support from superiors,” the study concluded.

Authors of the study recommended that Midwestern universities focus on two areas of concern: enlarging the pool of candidates and improving the workplace environment. That’s exactly what these new workshops aim to do.

“This is a wonderful proposal that seeks to address notable deficiencies in numbers of faculty of color represented at all levels of academic rank, including professor level, at ISU,” said Wilson Rumbeiha, a professor in veterinary medicine. “I am very positive and excited about this project.”

Interdisciplinary team mentors graduate students and faculty of color

Leaders of the workshop series include Monic Behnken, an assistant sociology professor; Gloria Jones-Johnson, a University Professor in sociology; and Thelma Harding, Iowa State’s coordinator of graduate recruitment and retention who’s also director of the Iowa State University McNair Program, which aims to increase the attainment of Ph.D. degrees by first-generation and underrepresented college students.

The team also includes Jordan, an assistant professor in human development and family studies; and Eulanda Sanders, the Donna R. Danielson Professor in Textiles and Clothing who is also the College of Human Sciences’ new equity adviser.

These faculty and staff members all mentor graduate students and faculty of color. Iowa State had 5,096 graduate students in fall 2015, including 9.18 percent who were students of color, according to the registrar’s office.

“We observe a critical need for broader and more inclusive mentoring of this group of current and future academics,” the group stated in its grant application. “These scholars share similar professional development needs as they transition from graduate school to faculty life and navigate academia through the stages of promotion and tenure, plus move into administrative positions.”

From graduate student to administrator

The workshops aim to support graduate students and faculty of all ranks, from assistant professors to associate professors, professors, and administrators. Refreshments will be served and registration is not required.

Graduate student to faculty: The first workshop will be held 3 to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 6 in the south ballroom of the Memorial Union. It will focus on graduate students of color transitioning to faculty members. Presenters include Brian Burt and Sarah Rodriguez in the School of Education, and Shannon Coleman in food science and human nutrition and Human Sciences Extension and Outreach.

Promotion and tenure: A second workshop to be held 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 1 in the south ballroom of the Memorial Union will be aimed at recruiting and retaining scholars of color. Jonathan Wickert, Iowa State’s senior vice president and provost, will speak along with Gong-Soog Hong, a professor and former chair of human development and family studies.

In a letter supporting the grant and workshop series, Hong explained that over the last 16 years, she’s served as a department chair at three universities and as an associate dean of a graduate college.

“In my previous administrative role, I hired over 20 tenure-track and tenured faculty, and was involved in numerous tenure and promotion cases,” she said. “I also conducted several professional development workshops for professional organizations with a special focus on promotion and tenure. With these experiences, I feel comfortable facilitating the workshop and look forward to it.”

Tools for faculty to continue their trajectory: A third event to be held 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 18 in the Memorial Union Pioneer Room will be an interactive workshop on achieving promotion to professor through career planning, engaging mentors, utilizing resources, and personal branding. Sanders and Rumbeiha will present at that workshop.

Faculty of color as future administrators: Then from 3 to 5 p.m. Monday, March 6 in the Memorial Union Pioneer Room, a fourth workshop will provide resources to individuals transitioning into administrative roles. Jones-Johnson will lead that workshop along with Francis Owusu, professor and chair of community and regional planning in the College of Design.  

“The pathway to senior-level administrative positions for faculty are often navigated through experiences within the shared governance model,” said Stewart, the vice president for diversity and inclusion. “Participation on a faculty senate or a strategic steering committee are but two examples of many.”

“Opportunities to demonstrate leadership acumen, critical thinking, consensus building, and fiduciary responsibility are modeled,” Stewart said. “It has been my experience that there are too few faculty from underrepresented backgrounds participating in these functions and fewer still when gender is considered.”

Diversity within academia: The final workshop scheduled for 3 to 5 p.m. Wednesday, April 12 in the Memorial Union Pioneer Room will focus on diversity within academia. Stewart will join Bratsch-Prince, the associate provost for faculty, and Margo Foreman, Iowa State’s director of equal opportunity, in giving an overview of the diversity challenge in academia.

Updates about the workshop series will be posted on Facebook and Twitter, using the hashtag #scholarpipeline.

Graduate students and faculty of color at Iowa State University are invited to take part in an evaluation of a five-part workshop series. There is no compensation for your participation. Your insights will be used to help build a better Iowa State University and contribute to the literature on professional development opportunities for scholars of color.

If you agree to take part in this brief study, you will participate in two interviews and attend all five professional development workshops noted below. For more information, email scholarpipeline@iastate.edu.