My commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) manifests in multiple ways. First, I serve on ISB’s DEI committee, wherein my role has been to assist in multiple faculty searches by providing feedback on the diversity of the applicant pool, including advocating for applicants that augment the diversity of the applicants. Second, I am in charge of mentoring new faculty and junior scientists (grad students and postdocs), who often include members of typically underrepresented groups in the sciences. Third, I am the founder of the Innovator Award Program (IAP) at ISB. Founded in 2017, IAP is an internal funding program that was designed to promote innovation and collaboration across rank and file scientists. The program explicitly disqualifies faculty applicants so the projects are spearheaded by junior scientists. The program also requires that the project teams cut across two or more faculty groups and that the proposal should include a DEI statement –both of these requirements ensure diverse participation and collaboration. This program has been remarkably successful in promoting careers of junior scientists of diverse backgrounds. In just the first four years of the program, the 13 IAP projects have yielded 18 peer-reviewed papers, 4 patents, 20 new federal grant applications, 29 new partnerships, 3 software products, and 6 novel technologies. Many applicants have progressed to very successful careers in academia (as faculty and staff scientists) and industry (in the roles of staff scientists, Directors, and even CSO).
Finally, I founded the Systems Education Experiences (SEE) program to promote scientist-educator-student partnerships for effecting systemic change in the delivery of education, mentoring, and transfer of knowledge to society. The highest priority given to DEI values in my lab is especially emphasized in the SEE program. While Seattle is an urban community that provides access to talented and diverse students and teachers, we have put in place processes, and relationships to increase recruitment of underrepresented groups from disadvantaged backgrounds. Over the last 20 years, we have cultivated relationships with several schools and programs that foster opportunities for students from underrepresented groups. We have worked closely with Rainier Scholars, WA Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA) – Making Connections (from the University of WA Women’s Center), and individual schools, such as Cleveland STEM HS which has a population with 95% students from minority ethnic groups, and 70-75% free and reduced lunch. Through these long-term relationships and our policy to offer paid internship opportunities to both students and teachers, we have been very successful in recruiting a diverse workforce for implementing the SEE program. For example, 79% of our high school student interns identified as female, and 86% were from underrepresented groups. Because our teachers come from a similar demographic, we are successful in disseminating our curriculum to underfunded schools, who have reported that our curriculum and program are especially suited for their classrooms because it uses minimal resources for doing real science. It is both our urban environment and our strong and positive, longstanding, collaborative relationships that allow us to be successful in both recruiting students and teachers and in staying connected with them as they move through academia and their professional track.
Through these first hand experiences in promoting DEI values, I have become aware of how gender, race, and socioeconomic status influence training opportunities and outcomes, and how this hinders the diversification of the STEM workforce. I use these learnings every day in understanding the world through a DEI lens, in how I make decisions in my professional duties, and in my approach to mentoring students and postdocs.