Geosciences department aims to improve diversity in field with new position

David Kubarek
August 29, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A new position in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences' Department of Geosciences aims to improve diversity in the field by beginning pioneering efforts at Penn State.

The new director of diversity programs, a fixed-term faculty member, will be tasked with building on existing departmental programs, mentoring students and building sustainable research and teaching initiatives that promote diversity among students, faculty and staff.

Traditionally, diversity programs have been maintained by faculty members with support from the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences’ Office of Educational Equity. Now, these efforts are expanding with this dedicated position. 

“Geosciences has spearheaded a number of diversity programs to bring both undergraduate and graduate students to Penn State by providing opportunities for research and engagement such as the AfricaArray and Fort Valley State programs,” said Demian Saffer, head of the geosciences department. “We felt committed to broadening our efforts with a dedicated faculty member.”

Saffer envisions that the director of diversity programs will use their expertise in science and diversity to engage underrepresented students in education and research while incorporating the entire faculty in the process. 

Saffer said this decision was driven by the excitement of underrepresented students who wanted to work in research areas with broad impact, as well as the push for private companies to improve diversity among their ranks.

“What makes this an exciting opportunity is that everyone is ready for this,” Saffer said. “There’s broad recognition for the value that different perspectives bring to solving problems in academia, industry and elsewhere.”

Tanya Furman, professor of geosciences, was part of the decision to create this new position. She said she hopes this novel approach will be successful enough to become a model for similar institutions. 

“This approach is pioneering,” Furman said. “We hope to bring in an expert who, as a colleague, quickly becomes woven into our fabric while bringing the scholarship and creativity that can take our department in new directions.”

Furman said this position will work in concert with the college’s Office of Educational Equity.

Victoria Sanchez, associate dean of educational equity in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, said this approach is unique because it doesn’t just appoint a diversity point person, it recruits a faculty member who will be ingrained in all the research and education of the department. 

How the position was developed also was unique, she said.

“What’s innovative about this approach is it was created by the faculty,” Sanchez said. “The faculty want to do better. They take improving diversity seriously and want to devote the resources and the visibility to improving diversity in geosciences, which is a field that’s historically struggled to make gains.”

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated August 29, 2019