Plant Pathology spotlights diversity, equity and inclusion through new committee

April 16, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Department of Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences recently launched a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee — the result of a conversation that sprouted from a mentoring relationship between a student and faculty member. 

In spring 2018, doctoral student Terry Torres-Cruz met with Carolee Bull, head of the Department of Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology, to discuss her personal goals. The conversation between the two quickly flourished into a concept that what would later become the foundation of a diversity, equity and inclusion committee for the department.

“I’m excited about this grassroots effort that will revitalize the department’s commitment,” said Bull. “This is the perfect next step in our continued dedication to diversity and inclusion.” 

According to Bull, the new committee provides support for an ongoing effort to incorporate diversity and inclusion through hosting ad hoc trainings and other resources.

“After our meeting, I went to the Plant Pathology Association, our graduate student organization,” said Torres-Cruz. “And they were supportive, so I started to work with other students on proposing the committee to the department.”

While the effort is sustained by students, faculty and staff on the committee, others in the department are committed to its mission and attend workshops and trainings as they are regularly available.

With support from Global Programs, the Affirmative Action Office and other University resources, the committee held two workshops in 2019. Topics included communication strategies, culture shock, cross-cultural interactions, unconscious bias, and ways to create a welcoming and inclusive environment.

Plant Path diversity speaker

Shakoor Ward, professional development coordinator in the Affirmative Action Office at Penn State, presents “Being More Conscious of Your Unconscious Bias” on Oct. 23, 2019, in Buckhout Laboratory. Ward’s workshop was a part of ongoing efforts from the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee in the Department of Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology to foster and sustain an environment of respect and inclusion for faculty, staff, students and members of the community.

IMAGE: Penn State

In addition to participating in workshops and events, the committee led this year’s organizing effort for student volunteers for The Graduate School’s STEM open house — an event that the department is involved in annually.

“It is evident that this committee will be important for our future recruitment and retention efforts,” said Bull.

Bull charged the committee to draft the diversity statement for the department’s 2020-2025 strategic plan, which will play a part in the department’s decision-making process.

“For me, the committee represents the continued commitment by the department to ensure that current and future plant pathologists are being enabled to present their whole selves and respect each other’s differences,” said Hanareia Ehau-Taumaunu, a graduate student. “It is important to see that there is a community that cares about creating a welcoming and inclusive environment where all can flourish.”

With the new ideas and energy of the committee, the department continues to foster and sustain an environment of respect and inclusion for faculty, staff, students and members of the community.

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Last Updated September 03, 2020