Pitt | Swanson Engineering
Office of Diversity Event Calendar
Beyond Diversity: Confronting Racism and the Obstacles to Equity and Justice on Campus (April 26, 2017)
2:00 PM - 3:30 PM
Benedum 102

In recent years, “diversity” has become a buzzword that is neither defined nor sufficiently understood as it relates to both the benefits and obstacles to empowering diversity.  This talk reflects on the importance of diversity and on the obstacles to fulfilling the promises of “diverse” institutions because of the “permanence of racism” at both the top and “the bottom of the well” (Bell 1992). Yet, diversity must be a starting point rather than end goal that departments and university administrators celebrate as evidence of progress and inclusion. Equity and a culture of justice must anchor any discussions of diversity demanding that we rethink the structures and cultures that too often give life to tokenism and persistent institutional equality.  This talk, thus, gives voice to strategies, as individual accomplices and institutional change agents, to rethink university culture, one grounded by a commitment to transformative equity.

Dr. David Leonard, Washington State University

David J. Leonard is Professor in the Department of Critical Culture, Gender and Race Studies at Washington State University, Pullman.  He regularly writes about issues of anti-black racism, media culture, inequality, and the criminal justice system.  His forthcoming book is entitled Playing While White Privilege and Power on and off the Field (University Washington Press). 

The Fisk-Vanderbilt Masters-to-PhD Bridge Program: A Model for Dramatically Increasing Diversity at the PhD Level in Science and Engineering (May 30, 2017)
1:00 PM - 2:30 PM
Benedum 102

The seminar will briefly review the current status of underrepresented minorities in science and engineering: the underrepresentation of Black-, Hispanic-, and Native-Americans is an order of magnitude problem. We then describe the Fisk-Vanderbilt Masters-to-PhD Bridge program as a successful model for addressing this problem. Since 2004 the program has admitted nearly 120 students, 90% of them underrepresented minorities (50% female), with a retention rate of 90%. Already, the program is the top producer of African American master's degrees in physics, and is the top producer of minority PhDs in astronomy, materials science, and physics. The seminar will summarize the main features of the program including its core strategies: (1) replacing the GRE in admissions with indicators that are better predictive of long-term success, (2) partnering with a minority-serving institution for student training through collaborative research, and (3) using the master’s degree as a deliberate stepping stone to the PhD. The seminar will show how misuse of the GRE in graduate admissions may by itself in large part explain the ongoing underrepresentation of minorities in PhD programs, and we describe our alternate methods to identify talented individuals most likely to succeed. We describe our mentoring model and toolkit which may be utilized to enhance the success of all PhD students.

Keivan Guadalupe Stassun, Ph.D.

After earning A.B. degrees in physics and in astronomy from the University of California at Berkeley, and the Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of Wisconsin—Madison, Stassun was a NASA Hubble postdoctoral fellow before joining the Vanderbilt faculty in 2003. A recipient of a CAREER award from NSF and a Cottrell Scholar Award from the Research Corporation, Stassun’s research on the birth of stars and planetary systems has appeared in more than 200 peer-reviewed journal articles. He is co-investigator on the NASA Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) mission and chairs the executive committee of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. From 2004 to 2015, he served as founding director of the Fisk-Vanderbilt Masters-to-PhD Bridge Program, through which Fisk has become the top producer of African American master’s degrees in physics and Vanderbilt has become the top producer of PhDs to underrepresented minorities in physics, astronomy, and materials science. He has served on the NSF Committee for Equal Opportunity in Science and Engineering, has been recognized by the Fletcher Foundation for “contributions advancing the spirit of Brown versus Board of Education,” is a recipient of the American Physical Society’s Nicholson Medal for Human Outreach, and is an elected Fellow of both the American Physical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In 2010, Stassun was invited to give expert testimony on “broadening participation in STEM” to the US House of Representatives Committee on Science and Technology. In 2016 Stassun launched a new interdisciplinary research initiative at Vanderbilt entitled Big Data Visualization and the Autistic Mind.