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Science faculty receive fellowships to advance equity and inclusion in STEM fields

Congratulations to College of Science faculty Vrushali Bokil and Robert Mason who were named OSU ADVANCE Faculty Fellows for 2018. Their efforts will help the College and the university enhance awareness about diversity and inclusion, which are important issues in STEM fields.

Vrushali Bokil, an associate professor of mathematics, and Robert Mason, head of the Department of Integrative Biology, join six other Advance Faculty Fellows from across the university.

Mathematician Vrushali Bokil

Supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF)with $3.5M for five years through June 2019, the Oregon State ADVANCE program seeks to create an equitable and socially just academic climate for women scientists and other underrepresented minorities who are faculty in the university.

Since 2001 the NSF’s ADVANCE Program has funded projects to support institutional transformations in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The goals of the program are to develop systemic approaches to address inequity and advance women in academic STEM careers.

The program uses the system of oppression theory to understand how institutions such as Oregon State University operate within larger intersecting systems of sexism, racism, classism, heterosexism, ableism, and ageism that reproduce and maintain hierarchies based on gender, race, class, sexual identity, class, among others.

Bokil is a graduate (Cohort 3B) of the ADVANCE seminar, which is a centerpiece of the ADVANCE program. The 60-hour ADVANCE seminar is an interactive learning experience centered on analyzing the operations of difference, power and privilege in higher education, with particular attention to STEM disciplines.

“The ADVANCE seminar was an incredible experience. you feel like crying, you feel helpless, you feel outraged, you feel empowered, and you feel purposeful. You feel all these things and more. In particular, I feel grateful to be part of a community of people that are dedicated to resolving inequities and making our community more just, diverse and equitable.,” said Bokil.

The eight 2018 ADVANCE fellows will assemble and review the action plans created by all ADVANCE seminar graduates in their college or unit, analyzing both planned and executed actions to find patterns and alignments across units and colleges. The Fellows will help to coalesce plans across units into sustainable practices that support an equitable and socially just academic climate, thus helping to move the work of Oregon State ADVANCE forward in a more integrated way. They will share the outcomes of their work with the ADVANCE community in Fall 2018.

Bokil’s specific project as a Fellow is focused on embedding a systems of oppression perspective in graduate student professional development seminars to highlight inequality and power dynamics. She successfully piloted the seminar in the Department of Mathematics along with doctoral student Emerald Stacy.

Bokil and Stacy designed and implemented a two-session training for first-year mathematics graduate students and teaching assistants based on the Oregon State ADVANCE seminar to understand how systems of oppression allow under-representation of certain communities within mathematics and in general.

“It has been incredibly rewarding to witness the conversations taking place amongst first-year graduate students in the months since the sessions. I have been thanked privately by students for opening up the conversations, and giving them a common vocabulary to use with each other,” said Stacy.

Bokil will work with College of Science Associate Dean of Strategic initiatives and Leadership, Matt Andrews, and Becky Warner, professor of sociology and principal investigator of the ADVANCE program, to integrate the seminar across all departments in the College.

Dr. Bokil will offer a training workshop based on the ADVANCE seminar for select faculty from each of the seven departments in the College at the end of May 2018. The newly trained faculty will then create graduate student ADVANCE seminars, similar to the piloted mathematics seminar, in their own departments in Fall 2018.

One critical outcome of the seminar is to prepare graduate students for the shifting academic job market. In particular, many academic institutions are now requiring a “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Statement” for faculty applications, in addition to a teaching statement and a research statement. Additionally, graduate students must be prepared to answer questions around equity and inclusion during job interviews.

Bokil has also started a dialogue with the Vice Provost and Dean of the Graduate School, Jennifer Brown, to explore creating such a seminar for all graduate students across the university. She will continue this conversation with the graduate school to explore different avenues for integrating ADVANCE training into the graduate student curriculum.

The overarching goal of Oregon State Advance is to serve as a catalyst for strengthening the study and practice of equity, inclusion and justice for women and others from historically underrepresented groups in the fields of science, engineering, technology and mathematics (STEM) and the social sciences.

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