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Intentional Steps Toward DEI

Submitted by Diana Knight on September 12, 2022 - 3:43pm
Brandi Cossairt speaks with Munira Khalil (whose back is toward the camera); both are wearing academic regalia
Profs. Brandi Cossairt and Munira Khalil prepare for the department's commencement ceremony on June 9, 2022.

by Brandi Cossairt and Diana Knight

The Department of Chemistry has been known to be a welcoming place with a collegial atmosphere and collaborative environment where interdisciplinary research can thrive. Our mission is to create new chemical knowledge and prepare the next generation of scientists in a safe and inclusive environment. We invite you to read a brief history of our continuing journey in the DEI space.

Creating a Committee

When Professor Emeritus Paul Hopkins was chair, he created a diversity committee comprised of faculty members in the autumn of 2008. The committee of four maintained its membership except for one member until Professor Emeritus D. Michael Heinekey became department chair in 2015. That year, Heinekey reformed the diversity committee and charged the faculty members of the committee to look at demographics associated with graduate student and faculty recruitment. This iteration of the committee included only one long-time member of the committee, and it is in 2015 when the recent history of the Diversity and Equity Steering Committee begins. Through 2018, the visible DEI related activities in the department (workshops, community building, surveys, professional development activities, seminars, etc.) were organized and led by the student group Inclusion in Chemical Sciences (known then as Women in Chemical Sciences-UW).

Branching Out

In the 2018-19 academic year Department-led activities focused on improving equity, and the culture of inclusion expanded dramatically, consistent with similar initiatives and efforts in departments across the country. The committee’s membership expanded to six faculty members that year and the committee likewise expanded our activities when we invited students and postdocs to join in conversations through quarterly Diversity Lunch and Learns to learn more about the Committee’s work and to brainstorm ways to further our impact. It was clear that graduate students and postdocs were already doing a lot of work in this space.

The following academic year (2019-20), the Committee added a seventh faculty member and continued the Diversity Lunch and Learns including one in June 2020 in response to the murder of George Floyd. The purpose of that gathering was to acknowledge that institutional racism and acts of state violence continue to occur towards communities of color in our country, and to recognize these issues as a community, listen to one another, and brainstorm ways that we as individuals and as a department could respond. Other workshops that year focused on equity in graduate and undergraduate education. A student roundtable on equity in the Second Year Graduate Exam resulted in recommendations to the Graduate Education committee to revise the structure of the exam and the new format was in place as of the 2021-22 academic year. 

Taking Off

In the summer of 2020, Professor Munira Khalil started her term as department chair on July 1. Khalil had served on the diversity committee from 2017 until she became chair in 2020. The 2020-21 academic year was when department records reflected the name “Diversity & Equity Steering Committee” for the first time and the diversity committee’s website was integrated into the departmental website. Khalil assigned four faculty members and two staff members to the committee and asked the Graduate Student Club to run an election for two graduate student representatives and a postdoc representative.

With a new department chair, a detailed charge to the committee, and increased membership, the committee was able to significantly increase our contributions to the Department. We applied for and were awarded a Diversity Seed Grant from the UW Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity which we used to support the STEMM(S) Mentoring Training program led by Dr. Tam’ra-Kay Francis. We also successfully nominated Francis for the American Chemical Society’s Stanley C. Israel Regional Award for Advancing Diversity in the Chemical Sciences.

We invited speakers, both from the UW and other institutions, for workshops and lectures between March-June 2021 (see list of Recent Departmental Events below). Additionally, we wrote and launched a graduate student climate survey in Summer 2021. The results of this survey were presented to the department chair and used to inform the charges of the faculty committees for the 2021- 22 academic year. In November 2021, Khalil and Professor Brandi Cossairt, the chair of the Diversity and Equity Steering Committee, hosted a Town Hall on Graduate Climate, Equity, and Inclusion to discuss the results and proposed next steps.

The Department of Chemistry successfully applied to become an American Chemical Society Bridge Partner. The ACS Bridge Program is an effort to increase the number of chemical science PhDs awarded to minoritized students by creating sustainable transition programs and a national network of institutions that provide substantial mentoring for students to successfully complete PhD programs. In Summer 2021, UW Chemistry recruited one student from the ACS Bridge applicant pool as a direct admit into the PhD program at UW. Bridge participants receive additional mentoring in the Department and training opportunities through the ACS to ensure PhD success.

To attract underrepresented minority (URM) students to our Ph.D. graduate program, UW Chemistry offered the Larry R. Dalton Ph.D. Term Fellowship to six rising stars who are URM students. The Fellowship includes a $15,000 stipend (in addition to the graduate student salary) in their first year of study (which was academic year 2021-22), four quarters of departmental research assistant salary beginning in summer 2023, and the opportunity to enroll and perform research in summer 2022 with an Early Start Research Assistantship. Funding from the Larry R. Dalton Ph.D. Term Fellowship is available for a total of three cohorts of rising stars (or a total of 13 students).

Recent Work

In this past academic year (2021-22), two additional faculty members joined the committee and we met monthly. We developed new Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Leadership Awards to recognize graduate students, postdoctoral scholars, and undergraduate students. Nominations were solicited, candidates were evaluated, and four awards were made in March 2022.

The Committee improved organization and advertising of UW resources for students, including posting permanent QR code posters that allow students easy access to this information. We proposed faculty training workshops focused on improving mentoring and graduate school training to Department Chair Khalil, which we hope will be scheduled in autumn 2023.

We also drafted a new Department Values and Mission Statement that has been shared with faculty. We look forward to publicizing it after we can share it with staff, postdoctoral scholars, and graduate students to gain department-wide buy in.

Another Graduate Student Town Hall was held in August 2022 as a strategy to welcome new feedback and perspectives, to brainstorm SMART goals for enacting change in the PhD program, and to inform the graduate student body of the Department’s 10-year review self-study.

This Is Just The Beginning

We recognize that the work of this committee is never ending and that it cannot be done without the participation and dedication of us all. We look forward to creating and maintaining a community where everyone is affirmed and empowered and shares our ideals of collaborating, honoring each other, engaging with the tough questions, and striving for excellence; and we look forward to sharing our work with you.

Profs. Brandi Cossairt and Munira Khalil prepare for the department's commencement ceremony on June 9, 2022. Photo by Doug Manelski | UW Photos

A Note from the Chair

I want to thank the Diversity and Equity Steering Committee for all their work over the past year and for providing this brief history and report to share their work from the last few years.

Members of the committee for Academic Year 2021-22 included Professors David Masiello, Pradip Rathod, Samantha Robinson, Deborah Wiegand, and Jesse Zalatan; Postdoctoral Scholar Megan Klein; graduate students Filip Stefanovic and Kollin Trujillo; and staff representatives Diana Knight and Casey Renneberg. Prof. Brandi Cossairt has chaired the committee since 2018 and I thank her for her outstanding leadership and her dedication to positively impacting the student experience and to addressing issues of equity in the Department of Chemistry.

The work of diversity, equity and inclusion is not solely done by the DEI committee. Faculty members and teaching assistants are working intentionally to include evidence-based teaching methods in our classrooms to encourage and challenge all students with the excitement of discovering and learning chemistry. Our values of diversity, equity, inclusion, and respect are woven into charge memos for various departmental committees and our interactions with each other in meetings, research labs, and the hallways.

Our DEI work is guided by our mission to educate a diverse and excellent workforce with collaborative and interdisciplinary skills to discover chemical knowledge for solving current global challenges.

Upwards and onwards,
Munira Khalil, Professor and Chair

Recent Departmental Events hosted by the Diversity & Equity Steering Committee

Workshop on Growth Mindsets with Drs. Patricia Zagallo and Leah Spence, UW TRIO Student Support Services, March 2021

“Difficult Dynamics: Navigating University Systems as a Graduate Student” with Ashley J. Davis, Esq., Office of the Ombud, April 2021

“Microaggressions…their impact in higher education, the classroom, and beyond” with Myron Anderson, Ph.D., University of Texas at San Antonio, May 2021

Lecture Series: Developing and Employing Student Learning Outcomes with Prof. Santiago Toledo, St. Edward's University, co-hosted with the Chemistry Education Group, May-June 2021

Town Hall on Graduate Climate, Equity, and Inclusion Survey, November 2021 (this new committee-led survey was administered in Summer 2021)

“Fully Engaging Students with Disabilities in Learning Opportunities” with Dr. Sheryl Burgstahler - Director, UW Accessible Technology Services, May 2022

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