Ashalla Freeman has received the 2016 Inspiring Women in STEM Award from INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine, the largest and oldest diversity and inclusion publication in higher education.
As director of diversity affairs in the Office of Graduate Education at the School of Medicine, Freeman manages diversity recruitment efforts and monitors the admissions process for underrepresented applicants to the biomedical PhD programs at Carolina. The award honors women who work to make a difference in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Freeman will be featured, along with 65 other recipients, in the September 2016 issue of INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine.
“We know women in STEM fields are not always represented or recognized for their success, dedication, and mentorship to others,” said Lenore Pearlstein, owner and publisher of INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine. “We want to honor those who are inspirations to their colleagues, their community, and to young girls everywhere who may be interested in a future career in STEM. We are proud to honor these women as role models to all.”
Freeman, who has been an integral part of the School of Medicine’s initiatives to increase faculty diversity, and student recruitment and success in the biosciences, greeted news of the award with humility. “I’ve just never thought of what I do as something that I might be recognized for,” she said. I want to help diversify STEM – that’s been my interest and passion since I was an undergrad. I love my job because I am able to achieve that goal in more ways than I ever imagine. It never occurred to me that I was thought of so highly or that I am influential!”
Indeed, her involvement has been vital to student success and lasting change in scientific culture at UNC-Chapel Hill – and elsewhere – for a variety of reasons: She’s established credibility and trust with faculty and serves as a resource as they make admissions decisions; she enhances the education and professional training of our students through participation in our first year graduate student curriculum; she provides insights to students and faculty at other universities regarding strategies for gaining admission to and succeeding in graduate school through her recruitment and outreach efforts; and she’s been able to connect faculty and students with opportunities and resources for success in graduate school and beyond through trans-university and national collaborations.
Her work continues with her recent acceptance into the BRIDGES Academic Leadership for Women program for this semester. “I’m thrilled,” she exclaims, of this opportunity to broaden her influence. “With BRIDGES training, I hope to expand the skills and knowledge that I’ve developed to shape institutional policies and practices, particularly in the areas of graduate education and diversity.”
In spite of the great strides that she has made in moving towards a diverse and equitable culture in the STEM fields for women and minorities, Freeman still sees challenges that need to be tackled. “There is a widely held idea that diversity equals inclusion…which it does not. We must have both,” she points out. “We need people with different experiences and perspectives to be present and seated at the table of innovation and change and we also must respect and engage these people, value all that they can contribute, and eagerly incorporate their values and ideas in all that we do.”