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University joins NSF-funded effort to boost STEM faculty diversity

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The University of Louisiana at Lafayette is among 54 schools chosen to help redefine higher education policies and practices for hiring and retaining STEM faculty as part of an initiative funded by the National Science Foundation.

The “Aspire: The National Alliance for Inclusive and Diverse STEM Faculty" initiative is being coordinated by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities through its Institutional Change Network. UL Lafayette is one of 19 new universities selected to join the effort, the APLU announced Thursday, Oct. 29.

The initiative was established to address a national issue. According to NSF research, underrepresented groups hold 9 percent of the STEM professorships at the nation’s four-year institutions. STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

Dr. Jaimie Hebert, UL Lafayette’s provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, said collaboration is essential to advance the diversity and inclusion of STEM faculty in higher education.

“Colleges and universities participating in the Institutional Change Network initiative will assess campus practices and policies related to STEM faculty representation; they will also share resources and findings with the other institutions. We will learn together, broaden our capacities for improvement, and identify solutions across higher education,” Hebert explained.

Dr. Taniecea A. Mallery, UL Lafayette’s executive director of Strategic Initiatives and chief diversity officer, said each university will create committees that include administrators, faculty members, and representatives from a range of campus departments and offices.

“The initiative offers universities an opportunity to take a deep dive into their faculty hiring and retention practices, and work toward advancing STEM faculty diversity with help from other schools,” she explained.

“Beyond that, institutions will work together to create a comprehensive set of policies and best practices that schools across the country can benefit from."

The initiative, which began in 2018, will last until 2023. In addition to pooling resources among all 54 college and universities, it will provide a framework for research partnerships among groups of two or three schools, Mallery said.

“If UL Lafayette wanted to study the feasibility of cluster hiring, for example, and another institution wanted to do the same thing, findings could be measured and compared,” she explained.

Mallery said the University’s involvement in the initiative is indicative of ongoing, campus-wide efforts to promote diversity and inclusion.

Those efforts are being guided, in large part, by the University’s Strategic Plan for Inclusive Excellence created by the Office for Campus Diversity. The comprehensive plan outlines goals for expanding programs, resources, policies and practices that advance equity and inclusion.

The University’s efforts haven’t gone unnoticed.

In September, UL Lafayette was one of 90 colleges and universities in the U.S. and Canada to earn the 2020 Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award from INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine. It was the third year in a row the University was recognized. Honorees are featured in the magazine’s November issue.

Mallery singled out several programs, initiatives and resources that caught the attention of the largest diversity magazine and website in higher education, including the Women’s Leadership Conference, the Black Student Achievement Awards program hosted by the Black Faculty and Staff Association and the Courageous Conversations workshop series.

She also cited the Learning is for Everyone, or LIFE, program. It provides an academic foundation, work experience and social opportunities for students with mild to moderate intellectual disabilities.

“It’s rewarding that the work being done at the University – and work that will be done in the next three years as part of the Institutional Change Initiative – will assist institutions across the nation in their respective efforts to level the playing field for underrepresented groups,” Mallery said.

Learn more about diversity and inclusion at the University at the Office for Campus Diversity website.