COSAM News Articles 2023 January COSAM OIED announces 2022 Inclusive Excellence in STEM Award winners

COSAM OIED announces 2022 Inclusive Excellence in STEM Award winners

Published: 01/23/2023

By: Matthew Gonzales

The COSAM Office of Inclusion, Equity and Diversity (OIED) has announced the winners of the 2022 Inclusive Excellence in STEM award, recognizing two faculty members and one graduate student who have shown exemplary efforts to promote inclusion and diversity. Dr. Vanessa dos Reis Falcao, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and Dr. Cissy Ballen, Assistant Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, are the faculty awardees, and Ashley Williams, PhD candidate in the Department of Biological Sciences, is the graduate student awardee.

The selection criteria for the Inclusive Excellence in STEM award focuses on advocacy and other work which makes the STEM world a more equitable and inclusive place. Each of the award winners have engaged in much of this work, both within Auburn University and beyond. In particular, Falcao incorporates inclusion, equity and diversity (IED) into her teaching from the first class meeting. “I believe the biggest challenge to overcome is implicit bias,” Dr. Falcao said. “Being aware we all have our biases, knowing which ones they are and exercising our brain to think about them, and how to act and react, is the first step in the direction to recognize we are not perfect and there is a lot of work to be done.” In addition, Falcao founded and chaired the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry IED committee and leads the Inclusive STEM Teaching project.

Ballen’s internationally recognized research focuses on equity in STEM in multiple ways. She has had multiple grants funded to support projects which investigate disparity in STEM education and strategies to reduce bias. “While the fields of biology, technology, medicine have accelerated and evolved at a rapid pace, the way in which we teach students biology is essentially the same as it was hundreds of years ago – which is wild!” Ballen asserted. “Embracing equity in science is acknowledging, celebrating, and nurturing the different experiences and perspectives of those around us.” Beyond her research to investigate reducing bias and disparity in STEM education, she employs concrete strategies in her classroom to support an inclusive environment and helps other instructors to do the same.

Ashley Williams has worked for the Greater Alabama Black Belt Region STEM program for multiple years and worked as a Lead Instructor in 2021. Within the Department of Biological Sciences, she has served as Graduate Student Council Senator, Graduate Studies Student Representative, a member of the Graduate Student Association, and a member of the IED committee. Notably, she also founded OurSTEMstory, a lecture series highlighting historically excluded scientists, their accomplishments, and the historical context around research ethics. This series was first hosted by the Department of Biological Sciences and will continue to be held by other departments in COSAM on a rotating basis. Looking towards the future, Williams stated: “My vision for COSAM is simple. I want to see measurable and consistent IED training and materials offered for all students, faculty, and staff. I want to see IED treated with the same fervor as the lab, research, and cyber security training the University offers.”

The Inclusive Excellence in STEM award comes with funding from COSAM OIED to hold an event to support the award winners’ work in IED.

Read how the award winners’ life experiences have shaped the way they look at IED, some challenging aspects of IED work and more here.

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