IES Award


 

Inclusive Excellence in STEM (IES) Award

 

The Inclusive Excellence in STEM Award (IES) is intended to recognize distinguished and exceptional faculty, staff, and students who have shown exemplary efforts to promote inclusion and diversity.  Each year, the Office of Inclusion, Equity and Diversity (OIED) recognizes a faculty/staff member and a student who have demonstrated tremendous leadership in advancing the University’s mission to build a more diverse and inclusive climate within COSAM. All full-time faculty, staff, and students are eligible. Examples by which recipients may demonstrate commitment to OIED’s mission include: work with student organizations that value the importance of inclusion, efforts that support recruitment as well as retention of diverse populations in STEM, research that expands the understanding of inclusivity, and community outreach activities.
 
 
CRITERIA
 
The award will recognize accomplishments that impact in the following areas:
 
  • Advocated for an environment in STEM that is welcoming of everyone regardless of race, ethnicity, sex, gender, religion, ability, etc.
  • Contributed to raising awareness about inclusion, equity, and diversity issues on Auburn’s campus or beyond.
  • Made a significant impact on the Auburn community regarding the OIED’s mission for diversity and inclusion.
  • Fostered equity of opportunities for success.
  • Excelled in educating students from traditionally underrepresented groups within STEM.
  • Acquired new knowledge and/or work that enhances understanding of traditionally underrepresented groups within STEM or has the capability to improve the quality of life among diverse populations.
  • Organized or participated in initiatives/activities that promote the social, academic, and professional development of traditionally underrepresented groups within STEM.
     

The winner of the 2020 Inclusive Excellence in STEM Faculty Award is Dr. Stephanie L. Shepherd, and the 2020 Inclusive Excellence in STEM Student Award winner is Abby Beatty! 

 

To get a deeper understanding of how they conceptualize diversity and inclusion, we asked our winners a few questions on the subject. Their answers are as follows.

 

1) What is your definition of diversity? 

Dr. Shepherd: My personal understanding of diversity has changed over time, expanding from race, religion, and sex to include gender identity, ethnicity, disability, and more. I now define diversity broadly as bringing people from these many identities together, but I also understand that diversity does not necessarily mean the same thing as equity and inclusion. That is more complex, and the hard work lies in connecting the three.

Abby Beatty: I personally define diversity as a collection of different identities - including demographics, differing experiences and cognitive backgrounds - in people which makes our collective population so interesting. It is the immense variation in human experience that makes us each unique, allowing each person to provide invaluable perspectives. 

 

2) How have your experiences and background shaped the way you view inclusion, equity, and diversity? 

Dr. Shepherd: I grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas and attended public schools, graduating from Little Rock Central High, the site of the 1957 desegregation crisis. The public-school system was still under court ordered desegregation when I attended in the 1980s.  Race was always a part of my experience.  In high school I participated in a week-long summer program called Anytown that was developed and run by the National Conference of Christians and Jews, a non-profit organization dedicated to social justice. Anytown brought a diverse group of high school students together to learn from each other about prejudice and discrimination whether it pertained to race, religion, gender, sexuality, etc. This was a formative experience for me. The next to last day of Anytown we woke to the leaders separating us by our self-identified racial/cultural identities. We were not allowed to talk to other groups or sit with other groups; we were told to only associate with our own kind. It was terrifying how we all fell into line immediately, even though we knew it was wrong. Only one person had the courage to step up and refuse to be separated, my friend Tufara. She has a rich deep singing voice and she started singing “We Shall Overcome.” As her voice soared, we, one by one, joined in and started to break away from our small groups to become one. I knew I never wanted to feel that weak and that wrong ever again. That knowledge is what fuels my passion for speaking out and using my privilege to help others.

Abby Beatty: As a first-generation college student from a working-class family, there were many aspects of the education process that I had to learn on-the-go. I was incredibly privileged to have a really supportive family, and there is no question that I would not be here without them. That same supportive family that had been essential in my success had also raised me with a respect for others, and the diversity that accompanies humankind.  But with this in mind, it was actually my lack of experiences in the first 20 years of my life that shaped many of my views on inclusion, equity, and diversity. I grew up in a region that was not particularly diverse in any regard. After beginning my undergraduate education and working with K-12 students from underprivileged backgrounds I realized just how fortunate I had been. I became immersed in a far more diverse culture and was shocked by my own lack of exposure to people from other backgrounds. As I was determined to learn more, a mixture of international travel, community outreach, and personal friendships have shaped the way I now view the world.  

 

3) What do you see as the most challenging aspect of creating an inclusive and diverse working environment? What steps have you taken to meet this challenge? 

Dr. Shepherd: As an academic community we have two significant challenges. First, STEM programs are historically not particularly diverse. Second, as professors we are very confident in our knowledge and understanding of the world, but we are not without our own biases. We must first listen and strive to understand the lived experiences of our colleagues and students that are from historically minoritized groups, especially when it does not fit within our own experiences. This will help us create the space to increase diversity. Personally, I take every opportunity to educate myself – completing Safe Zone training, participating in the Academics for Black Wellness and Survival Allies workshop series, reading about inclusive teaching, etc. For our department, I am actively recruiting students from under-represented groups in STEM. This semester, for example, I talked with students at the annual meeting of National Association of Black Geoscientists and submitted an application to the American Geophysical Union’s Bridge Program that would provide external support for Black, Hispanic, or Native American graduate students in Geoscience.

Abby Beatty: In my experience the most challenging aspect of creating a diverse and inclusive environment is cultivating societally relevant (often difficult and controversial) discussions that are uplifting and inclusive rather than divisive. I have made an active shift in my teaching strategies over the last few years to ensure that rather than backing away from topics that can be uncomfortable and difficult to teach, I encourage my students to have respectful and enlightening conversations in an environment where they can learn from their shared and unique experiences. 

 

4) What is your vision for COSAM as we work toward fully embracing inclusion, equity, and diversity? 

Dr. Shepherd: As one person it is extremely challenging to make systemic changes, but working together it can happen. Collaborating as faculty, staff, and students across the five Departments in COSAM we have a great opportunity to take the lead in inclusion, equity, and diversity within Auburn University. My vision is to be one of many pushing our disciplines, our departments, and the University to embrace excellence through diversity.

Abby Beatty: As we move forward, I hope that COSAM commits to change both at the college and university level. Actions speak louder than words, and while discussion is necessary to ensure that actions have purpose, action is what will change the environment on campus. I hope that COSAM continues to focus on providing students with the skills necessary to be an empathetic and societally literate student body, expanding their view of diversity. 

 

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Dr. Stephanie L. Shepherd

 

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Abby Beatty

 

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Dr. Shepherd, far right, with students at the Buffalo River in Arkansas

 

 

Previous Winners

2019 Faculty Award: Dr. Beth Yarbrough

2019 Student Award: Hayleigh Hallam