NORDP 2022 Plenary: Dr. Sherilynn Black Identifies Solutions and Spurs Action Toward Achieving Equity 

Sherilynn Black, NORDP April 27 Plenary Speaker

An unyielding commitment to equity and inclusion has been a through-line of Dr. Sherilynn Black’s career, from her graduate training as a neurobiologist to her current position as Associate Vice Provost for Faculty Advancement at Duke University. “I always had a desire to contribute to the scientific workforce in a way that was led by my values, and also led by a desire to expand knowledge and to expand people’s ability to understand and have access to science,” noted Black, reflecting on her professional journey, which has combined neuroscience, human behavior, higher education administration, and diversity work. 

Black will give a plenary address to NORDP conference attendees entitled Examining Barriers and Identifying Solutions Toward Achieving Equity in STEM. In her remarks, she will explore the ways in which research development professionals can empower themselves and their colleagues to promote equity within their institutional environments and offer practical and easily adoptable steps toward changing systems and structures in academic organizations.  

Black’s current work, which has been funded by HHMI, NIH, and Burroughs Wellcome Fund (among others), focuses on developing and measuring the effectiveness of interventions designed to promote diversity in academia. When asked about the ways in which her research interests have evolved she responded, “I was still interested in doing research, but wanted to do it in a way that really touched on the areas that were very important to me. I ended up transitioning from basic neuroscience to social neuroscience and then started focusing on race and equity more specifically.” As for how her research has informed her work as an administrator, Black points out, “My work is to design interventions. I study large scale datasets and look at the ways to design interventions to shift human behaviors towards equity. So, for me, the research that I do ties in very closely with a lot of the administrative roles I’ve held.” 

While the connection between Black’s neurobiology background and her current research might not seem intuitive at first blush, the connection is clear to her. “To me, as a scientist, thinking about academia as an ecosystem is no different than thinking about a biological structure. Using statistical models has helped me learn how variables interact with one another. If you change one element of a model, how will it affect the downstream indicators of the rest of the model?” And Black is a strong proponent of applying the same rigorous scientific approach to her current work that she brought to the bench as a graduate student and postdoctoral researcher, noting,” I think a lot of times when it comes to work on diversity and equity topics people go off of their gut, or they see a successful initiative somewhere else, and they try to apply it locally without any contextual knowledge or evidence that it will be effective. They are not informed by the literature or by scholarly expertise. I like to use data to inform the practices that I develop for interventions. And I really do think that’s a big part of why they’ve been successful – because they’re evidence-based methodologies that are focused extensively on understanding the contextual knowledge, understanding the affective parts of motivation and behavior, and understanding the desired outcomes.” 

Black views research development professionals and other academic staff as vital changemakers within their institutions when it comes to promoting a culture of inclusivity noting, “Research development professionals are critical for this work, because they are the ones who can create the culture, tone, and climate of training and work environments. Often times, students cycle in and out, and faculty may come and go, but staff play a critical role because they are often the longitudinal forces creating the culture that others cycle through.” 

As Black is well aware, the hierarchy that can exist within academic institutions and companies alike can make changing the culture a challenging endeavor. “Ultimately, hierarchy can lead to a strong desire to cling to different norms for self-preservation. Anything that disrupts positionality or disrupts power structures can lead to challenges when you’re thinking about equity.” But despite these challenges, she notes the imperative for institutional change, stating “If the culture and climate is not one that allows all individuals to thrive, we will continue to see underrepresentation and attrition, or we will bring in scientists who have to assimilate to the current inequitable environment to survive. This means that we’re actually losing the benefit of the diversity that we sought to recruit in in the first place. Science will not be the best that it can be, and we won’t be as strong or as innovative of a field.” 

Above all else, Black hopes that plenary attendees will come away with a sense of empowerment to step up at their own institutions. “I think that the more we create spaces where people feel that they have the agency and the right to speak up on what’s right and wrong, and the more that we all agree to subscribe to the norm that every person has the right to thrive and excel. That includes all students, faculty and staff.  I think this will help more scientists to feel like they have the power to speak up when they see something going on.” 

NORDP 2022 Plenary: Estrada Focuses on Kindness-Affirming Inclusion

Mica Estrada, NORDP April 28 Plenary Speaker

When someone is kind, they support the dignity of another person. When mentors are kind, they convey a sense of safety, which is good for learning, retention, and attention. NORDP conference attendees will learn more about the benefits of kindness and tips to bring new perspectives on kindness to our work.

“Kindness affirms inclusion,” says Dr. Mica Estrada, Associate Professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences and the Institute for Health and Aging at the University of California at San Francisco’s School of Nursing. She will be the NORDP 2022 conference plenary speaker at 11:00 a.m. eastern time on Thurs., Apr. 28, discussing “Why Kindness Is Important when Mentoring in an Interconnected World.”

As a social psychologist, Estrada studies how people integrate into their field. “We look at how quality mentorship helps students feel they can do the science, develop their identity as scientists, and how they share community values,” she explains.

Estrada says kindness has always been at the forefront of her scholarship. “At about four years old, my first memory was when a US ship went into Chinese water. I remember thinking, will there be a war, why do we hurt each other?” She continues thinking about that later question in her research, and chooses to focus on how people connect to each other, and specifically on kindness as the solution.

She compares her passion for kindness in mentoring to tending a garden. “Instead of spending time pulling weeds, I decided to put effort into growing what we want to reduce the space for the things we don’t want to grow,” she says.

Estrada will share findings from her years of research with NORDP conference attendees, highlighting results that are relevant to mentoring students and faculty or working with other research development colleagues.

“We’ll be talking about ‘quality mentorship’,” she says. The first focus is on instrumental support, or the “nuts and bolts” activities, such as how to access physical spaces or scholarly journals. This will differ in each situation. The second focus is on psycho-social support, such as empathy, listening, and emotional presence. Again, the details will differ based on the relationship, but the concept is important.

Estrada’s research is well funded by the NSH, NIH, and HHMI. She says she finds grantwriting to be a creative, labor-intensive challenge as she explains what she wants to explore while being concrete and persuasive. She draws upon past experiences with non-profit groups and work with development officers. She is also engaged in community-service roles, serving on the National Research Council Committee’s Roundtable on the Future of STEM Education; the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine consensus study on Advancing Anti-Racism, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in STEM Organizations; and a NASA Minority University Research and Education Programs advisory committee.

Estrada focuses her research and time on understanding how to increase inclusion and equity in our education system.  Her research methods identify educational interventions that facilitate integration into a community and increased engagement in the normative behaviors of that community for all students. She encourages us all to amplify what we want within our academic and professional environment, and she sees ample opportunity to do this.

“We’re at an interesting time in history,” she suggests. “COVID has shaken up the way we work. There’s an opportunity to not go back, but to go forward in a way that serves us as human beings.”

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NORDP fosters a culture of inclusive excellence by actively promoting and supporting diversity, inclusion and equity in all its forms to expand our worldview, enrich our work, and elevate our profession.

Conference Attendance Grants Due Feb. 12

NORDP invites applications for attendance grants for the 2019 Annual NORDP Research Development Conference in Providence, Rhode Island (April 28 – May 1) from members in need of financial support beyond what their institutions or organizations can provide. Conference Attendance Grants will cover the Conference registration fee and may provide hotel accommodations for 1, 2 or 3 nights. Related other expenses, such as travel, are expected to be contributed by the grantee’s institution and/or the grantee.

Aligned with NORDP’s goals to increase diversity and promote inclusive excellence throughout the organization, we encourage applications from our members who are from under-represented minority populations or who are employed by Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) or other Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs). All Regular Members in good financial standing who haven’t received Conference Attendance Grants in the last 3 years are eligible to apply.  Exception: These grants are not available to current and prior NORDP Board Members, Affiliate Members, or Consultants.

Grantees are expected to volunteer at the 2019 Annual Conference and to serve on a NORDP committee, subcommittee, or working group in the year following the Conference.

The application deadline is Tuesday, February 12 at Noon, Eastern Standard Time.  PLEASE DO NOT REGISTER FOR THE CONFERENCE UNTIL YOU ARE NOTIFIED OF THE STATUS OF YOUR APPLICATION (by March 1)!

Apply for a Conference Attendance Grant here: 2019 Conference Attendance Grant Application

Contact Kay Tindle with questions (kayla.tindle@ttu.edu).