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Sustainable Inclusive Excellence Update: School of Arts & Sciences

DEPARTMENT(S): 
June 13, 2022

As part of WPI’s Sustainable Inclusive Excellence (SIE) efforts, the departments and programs of the School of Arts & Sciences are thrilled to highlight several initiatives, changes, and opportunities that focus on cultivating diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging at WPI.

Though the approaches and initiatives vary significantly across the School, there are two areas in which all departments and programs have focused: improving student experience and retention and cultivating faculty and staff diversity and feelings of belonging. For example, the Department of Biology and Biotechnology (BBT) initiated several undergraduate support and outreach initiatives, including the Biology Ambassadors Program, which pairs junior and senior majors with incoming first year BBT students to act as peer mentors. While the program benefits all students, there is particular emphasis on providing support for students of color, first generation, LGBTQIAP+, and other underrepresented groups to build community connections within the department. The Mathematical Sciences Department began a similar mentorship program for Math majors and minors, featuring an inaugural cohort of six mentor-mentee pairs with plans to expand the network in the upcoming academic year.

More broadly, each department established or expanded a DEI committee, devoting time to issues that directly impact the department’s faculty, staff, and students. These committees wrote or revised departmental diversity statements and organized events that highlight the diversity in their fields. Several departments, including BBT, Data Science, Humanities & Arts (HUA), and Social Science & Policy Studies (SSPS), reconsidered and expanded the role of the Diversity Advocate and applied those changes to recent faculty and staff searches. Departments and programs such as Math, Computer Science, HUA, and Interactive Media & Gaming Design (IMGD) facilitated intradepartmental listening sessions about inclusion, belonging, mental health, and other aspects of campus climate and culture. These conversations aim to provide starting points for further programs, initiatives, and changes.

Several departments and programs launched specific initiatives. Under the leadership of Dr. Francesca Bernardi, the WPI chapter of Girls Talk Math, a free two-week math and media day camp for local girls and nonbinary high school students, will launch in July 2022 with generous support from the Women’s Impact Network (WIN) and MAA Tensor Women & Mathematics program. Building off the groundbreaking work of Dr. Hermine Vedogbeton, a postdoctoral fellow, on the Black student experience at WPI, the Department of Social Science & Policy Studies (SSPS) is in the process of establishing a Black Futures Lab. In March, the Department of Data Science hosted the fifth annual Women in Data Science (WiDS ) conference of Central Massachusetts. Organized by Dr. Elke Rundensteiner with assistance from students from Data Science, Computer Science, and Bioinformatics and Computational Biology, the conference provided an opportunity for students and faculty learn about the newest directions in the field as well as make professional connections.

Under the umbrella of HUA, interdisciplinary programs, including Africana Studies (led by Dr. Jeanne Essame), Gender, Sexuality & Women’s Studies (co-directed by Drs. Lindsay Davis and Rebecca Moody), and Latin American & Caribbean Studies (co-directed by Drs. John Starosta Galante and Aarti Smith Madan), expanded curricular offerings, established specialized minors and programs of study, hosted symposia, and featured artists and creative writers. The GSWS program grew swiftly, recruiting over 15 minors in just one year and overenrolling all the course offerings. Worcester Community Project Center director Laura Roberts and Dr. Aarti Smith Madan, supported by a 2020 six-figure grant from the Department of Education, spent the year organizing a “Local Latino Projects Program” in Worcester to provide students with a simultaneously local and global project experience. It is part of a broader effort to incorporate intersectional project work like this across the WPI curriculum.

Finally, Dr. Rodica Neamtu and the Department of Computer Science received a grant to implement a pilot AI4ALL program, a national program supported by Melinda Gates’ Pivotal Ventures. Beginning in Fall 2022, this program will recruit first-years, sophomores, and juniors, especially women and under-represented groups, and provide a five-week curricular program called Discover AI, focusing on the ethics of AI, work with industry leaders, and gain access to a network of past participants.

These efforts represent just a fraction of the exciting DEI initiatives and programs occurring in the School of Arts and Sciences. Follow our progress by visiting the Sustainable Inclusive Excellence Action Plan Hub. If you have any questions or ideas, please reach out to Arts & Sciences Inclusion Partner Lindsay Davis at lgdavis@wpi.edu.