Friday, October 4, 2013

Celebrating Diversity at GT

Two weeks ago, Georgia Tech celebrated the advances we've made in creating an atmosphere of inclusive excellence on our campus. (Given the time delay, it should be clear that I'm still catching up on my blog posting and everything thing else!) Only three years ago, the office of the Vice-President for Institutional Diversity (VPID) was created. Dr. Archie Ervin was appointed the first VPID (as announced by President Peterson on October 5, 2013). It was a privilege for me to be involved in the search for his position. He had us at "hello" and he's been catalyzing our community ever since. He's built a staff of extremely talented people. He's created much needed mechanisms to coordinate the many diversity activities that had already been taking place on campus. Not only is the sum greater than the parts, but it has allowed for the creation of new policies and programs to improve the atmosphere on campus. The now-annual Diversity Symposium is a capstone bringing attention to these advances.

The keynote speaker was Dr. France Córdova. She's a true rocket scientist, having been appointed as NASA's Chief Scientist in 1993. She's the former President of Purdue University, and she's currently working at the Smithsonian. Through this latter position, she has a connection to Georgia Tech. Her boss, Dr. Wayne Clough, is the much beloved President who preceded President Peterson. Interestingly, she's presently not accepting speaking invitations. She honored ours only because she had accepted the invitation prior to Obama's announcement that she will be the next Director of the National Science Foundation subject to Congress's approval. Evidently inclusive excellence has to be timely, too! Dr. Córdova's message was simple. We need to increase the public's science literacy and awareness. As evidence, she shared her personal story and directed us to the recent National Academy's report on "Changing the conversation: Messages for Improving Public Understanding of Engineering." Notably, the chair of the committee that wrote the report was Georgia Tech's own former Dean of the School of Engineering, Don Giddens. Why is this message relevant to a Diversity Symposium? Because one of the biggest obstacles to inclusive excellence is the fact that not too few children are dreaming of becoming a scientist. Sadly, the barriers to science don't stop there. Progressing through his or her career, the realization of the dream to advance science tends to be obstructed in ways that affect people from different backgrounds inequitably. What Georgia Tech is doing to change the atmosphere on campus is critical to lowering such obstacles for everyone. For example, students and faculty presented with clear and transparent guidelines for success (in facing tests or tenure promotion, respectively), are thereby provided with the confidence (in the system) necessary to be successful regardless of their diversity make-up. The presence of such success stories, in turn, makes it easier for young people to see that the STEM career pathway is truly accessible to them.

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