Dr. Dalton's Goals in Mentoring and Fostering Diversity in Science
Knowledge and Awareness
Aspects of Diversity and Consequences of Underrepresentation
As stated on the university website, Duke University is committed to collaboration, innovation, creativity, and belonging. As a faculty member, it is paramount I learn from the perspective of underrepresented groups and educate myself on how to best support our peers as an agent of change. Everyone you meet knows more than you about something, this is a reminder that every person brings their own unique perspective to contribute and everyone should have their voice heard. The consequences of underrepresentation are lost perspective, reduced potential, and fewer problems solved. We need the best minds to solve world-wide challenges, but this requires equal opportunity. The first step is to acknowledge that everyone, myself included, has biases. It is only through awareness that we can take steps to address those biases. Reaching a point where we are aware of our biases enables us to identify and implement ways to overcome bias and work toward a fairer and more just system.
Importance of Inclusion
When comparing my master and doctoral studies, one key difference emerges. At North Carolina State University: my advisor and all my fellow graduate students were from countries other than the United States. During my masters’ studies at West Virginia University: my advisor and all fellow graduate students were US citizens. While neither situation is right or wrong, some clear lessons arose from my doctoral studies. When finalizing a manuscript, he suggested I reconsider how one particular image was presented. From his perspective researchers from Middle Eastern nations, where many individuals read from right-to-left (RTL), could become confused by my left-to-right (LTR) orientation of the figure. This may seem obvious, but having been educated in a western culture (and specifically reading from LTR), I had never considered how orientation could lose a reader. Clear communication is essential to promote learning and exchange of ideas, and the structure of my native language imprinted this unintentional bias onto my work. Since that epiphany, I continue to seek out feedback and focus on improving the clarity of my communication to ensure I accommodate all interested readers.
Experience and Activities
With students/student programs
I was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to study in Finland during the 2020-2021 academic year. I pursued this opportunity, in part, to gain firsthand experience and better understand living in a new culture as the foreigner. While no single person’s experience is identical, my hope was to develop firsthand knowledge of this experience to model that of students who relocate in pursuit of higher education. While the population in Finland is predominantly Caucasian and many are fluent in English, I gained firsthand insight on challenges faced when moving to a new country. For example, I found that communicating ideas (even when both parties are fluent in English) presented unique opportunities to improve my communication skills. One key way to overcome these issues is to befriend diverse groups (both ages and races). I was fortunate to take some language classes and also befriend a Finn who helped me navigate the nuances of Finnish customs. Studying the language, I learned a lot about the Finnish people and some reasons behind the structure of the culture. For example, the absence of gender-specific pronouns in the Finnish language may, to some extent, have influenced the largely egalitarian society Finland enjoys today.
Adapting teaching practices
I actively educate myself on methods to promote diversity and integrate what I learn in my teaching methods. In one course focused on teaching undergraduate engineers, I gained deeper insight from a more experienced engineering professor. From this professor, I learned of some common issues that may arise in learning environments with respect to race, gender identity, and age. Through that course, I learned strategies from the professor’s firsthand experiences, including those she developed while working with students from all over the world. For example, on the first day of my lectures, I start by introducing myself and why I chose civil engineering. I then ask each student to introduce themselves and explain why they chose civil engineering. This exercise highlights the common interest among everyone in the room. I also require group work with randomized partners in all my lesson plans. In this way students are encouraged to learn to communicate and work with students they may not know, thereby learning how to better work with others. This is paramount to their individual learning experience.
Mentorship, research, activities, etc.
I have mentored and assumed a role as an ambassador for some colleagues throughout my doctoral studies and now my graduate and undergraduate students. I find great joy in introducing American customs to my peers and assisting with breaking down lingual barriers. These interactions have enriched my understanding of my own culture and reinforced that communication and common understanding are critical in ensuring academic success. I have become more aware of the inequalities faced by minorities. A fellow PhD student had to drop out of the program because they had to move home to take care of their family. This is a challenge I was privileged to never need to consider and another reason so many underrepresented groups continue to remain underrepresented. More robust assistance needs to be in place to support students during unprecedented situations.
Initiatives that advance equity at the University
To overcome biases when hiring graduate students, I plan to have one colleague blind the applications by removing individual’s names, university, etc., before I review the applications. I plan to have another faculty member serve as a diversity agent to check my biases during the hiring process. This way I avoid bias in selecting candidates for interviews and bias in critiquing their interviews. Deliberating the merits of applicants with an appointed diversity agent will assist me in checking my biases and ensure I provide equal opportunity to every applicant. I will also offer to serve in the role of diversity agent to other professors in the department.
As an instructor, I seek to incorporate diverse voices in my courses by inviting guest speakers to lecture in my courses and give seminars on their research topics. I will invite professionals from various sectors (academia, government, and industry), countries, and disciplines. I also integrate diverse voices by incorporating readings in my courses that cover a breadth of knowledge and representation.
Initiatives that advance equity in the local community
To provide opportunities to underrepresented groups in high schools, I plan to be involved in student outreach programs and hope to initiate a program where underrepresented students from local high schools can collaborate with graduate students to complete a research project. Then I will seek funding to support the program.
In summary, the most important step in supporting diversity is accepting that everyone has biases. The only way to overcome our biases is to acknowledge they exist and work to overcome them. I will promote diversity in my research, teaching, and personal life with the intent of being an agent of change for underrepresented communities. It is paramount I continue to learn from people with different cultural and educational backgrounds and that I share with them all I can.