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The Future Faculty Workshop run by Dr. Thomas Epps at Gore Hall, Monday, August 15, 2016.

Future Faculty Workshop

Photo by Kathy F. Atkinson

Two-day UD workshop grooms diverse leaders for the future

Navigating the application process for a faculty position is challenging, and it can be especially intimidating for groups that are currently underrepresented in science and engineering. Yet individuals in these groups — for example, women, minorities, first-generation college students, and persons with disabilities — bring untapped talent and a broadened perspective to academic institutions.

A two-day workshop, “Future Faculty Workshop: Grooming Diverse Leaders for the Future,” held at the University of Delaware in August was aimed at smoothing the path for senior graduate students and postdoctoral fellows aspiring to become independent academic researchers. Organized by Thomas H. Epps, III, who also served as a mentor, the program focused on soft materials — that is, polymers and plastics — and biomaterials.

“We kept the subject area really focused so that participants could practice delivering technical research presentations in an environment similar to what they would encounter during an actual interview process, with mentors providing realistic and technical feedback,” says Epps, who is the Thomas and Kipp Gutshall Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at UD, with a joint appointment in materials science and engineering.

A slate of mentors in chemistry, chemical engineering, materials science and polymer science covered topics including the faculty application and interview processes, proposal writing, networking, research directions and research group management, and publication and presentation skills. The material was presented through a variety of means, including lectures, discussions, breakout sessions, and active-learning scenarios.

“By pairing students and postdocs with active and engaged research mentors to develop career-long relationships, we are enabling the formation of sustainable and highly productive mentor-mentee and mentee-mentee networks,” Epps says.

Participants appreciated the close interaction with faculty at different points in their academic careers as well as the honest stories and “unwritten rules” shared by mentors.

“It was really nice to have people talk about the whole application process in an honest way without making it sound like an awful thing that is impossible to navigate,” said one mentee. “The whole atmosphere of the workshop really helped me ask questions and get suggestions and advice.”

Another mentee commented, “I most liked learning what I didn’t know I needed to know. So much about professor life is not seen by grad students, and it was excellent to have the veil pulled back to fully understand what to prepare for the future.”

The 2016 event, which hosted 32 graduate student and postdoc mentees at UD, was the eighth in the series. Previous workshops were run at MIT, Carnegie Mellon, the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the University of California Santa Barbara, and Georgia Tech. The 2017 workshop will be held at Case Western Reserve University, with LaShanda Korley and Emily Pentzer organizing the programming.

Recent funding by a National Science Foundation grant to Epps will provide three years of support for the workshop.

“With NSF support, we have opened the door for this workshop to serve as a blueprint for enhancing pipeline diversity in other fields in academia,” Epps says. “We are developing best practices that can be applied in all fields of science and engineering.”

The program will be evaluated in conjunction with Joan Buttram, director of the Delaware Education Research and Development Center, using a logic model approach. The use of pre- and post-workshop surveys, follow-up questionnaires, and independent workshop observers will enable refinement of the workshop during the three-year period and beyond.

“Increasing the proportion of underrepresented groups in the science and engineering academic realm will be transformational and is one of the most effective mechanisms for enhancing overall diversity in the future science and engineering workforce,” Epps says. “The Future Faculty Workshop is an important component of this process, which needs to start with K-12 education and touch students at all levels in between.”

In addition to funding from NSF, support for the 2016 workshop was provided by the UD departments of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and Materials Science and Engineering, the UD College of Engineering, the Delaware Biotechnology Institute, the UD Women in Engineering Program, the Hampton University Partnerships for Research and Education in Materials (PREM) program, and Tosoh Bioscience.

Mentors and speakers for the 2016 workshop at UD included:

• Kevin Anderson, chemistry, Oakwood University.

• Heather Doty, mechanical engineering and UD ADVANCE program, University of Delaware.

• Jerald Dumas, chemical engineering, Hampton University.

• Lola Eniola-Adefeso, chemical engineering, University of Michigan.

• Thomas H. Epps, III, chemical and biomolecular engineering, University of Delaware.

• Marcus Foston, chemical engineering, Washington University.

• Deidre Gibson, marine and environmental science, Hampton University.

• Warren Grayson, biomedical engineering, Johns Hopkins University.

• David Green, chemical engineering, University of Virginia.

• April Kloxin, chemical and biomolecular engineering, University of Delaware.

• LaShanda Korley, macromolecular science, Case Western Reserve University.

• Christine Luscombe, materials science, University of Washington.

• Richard McCullough, chemistry, Harvard University.

• Emily Pentzer, Chemistry, Case Western Reserve University

• Millicent Sullivan, chemical and biomolecular engineering, University of Delaware.

• Richard Taylor, science and technology, University of the West Indies, St. Augustine.

• Gregory Tew, polymer science and engineering, University of Massachusetts Amherst.

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