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The second annual Diversity in STEM Conference brought together participants for developmental learning experiences, networking, and guest speakers, designed to better educate faculty and staff regarding diversity and inclusion of ethnic minorities and women in STEM.

The morning Welcome and Workshop featured Dr. Christine Grant, an Academic Resilience Strategist and Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at NC State. As one of fewer than 10 African-American women at that rank, she shared her experience as a minority in laboratories who had to learn to literally claim her space as a scientist.

Dr. Christine Grant shares the importance of resilience and balance in STEM

Grant’s upbeat and interactive session taught faculty, staff and graduate/post doc students about Leveraged Empowerment, encouraging participants to address critical issues to bolster their ability to network, mentor, manage time stress, sharpen their negotiating skills, become better leaders and develop mental toughness. She stressed the importance of identifying and cultivating one’s leveraging opportunities in order to achieve an optimal balance of resilience and contentment, and to follow one’s dreams.

Cheerful and encouraging, Grant also stressed the importance of finding something that makes you happy outside of your STEM field so that you can have life balance. In her case, it’s knitting and making jewelry, skills which were delightfully demonstrated at the session’s end, when she invited the audience to choose an item from a gift tree. Inside small, shimmery sacks were handmade earrings, bracelets and other items she’d created during her time outside of the lab and classroom…a reminder that balance can truly be found, even in the most demanding fields.

Following a networking lunch, Dr. Freeman A. Hrabowski, President of University of Maryland, Baltimore County and Chair of the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African Americans under President Obama, was the keynote speaker. He spoke of the importance of involving the humanities as an aspect of STEM education so that we can ensure the development of humanist scientists. As an example, he paraphrased from Guillaume Apollinaire’s Le Pont Mirabeau (“La joie venait toujours après la peine”), translating it as “at the end of the pain, there is joy.” The poem’s message was a reminder that it takes hard work, grit and focused determination to achieve one’s goals…but the struggle and frustration is part of the learning process. The idea of continued learning, in particular is vital – one can never stop learning, whether in the STEM fields or elsewhere.

Dr. Cham shares a laugh with participant at 2nd annual Diversity in STEM Conference

Dr. Jorge Cham, founder and artist, PHd Comics, is a case study in Dr. Hrabowski’s concept of combining humanities with STEM: He received his PhD in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford University, became an instructor and researcher at Caltech and then created “Piled Higher and Deeper,” a nationally syndicated comic strip about life in academia. Dr. Cham discussed the importance of telling your story in a brief, accessible manner, with a maximum of 10 lines, having your “hook” to engage readers or listeners, and always ending in a punchline.

The conference was sponsored by Diversity and Multicultural Affairs, Office of Postdoctoral Affairs, Office of Research Communications, Office of Graduate Education, and the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, and was developed by the UNC Council on Scientific Enrichment.

by Adrianne Gibilisco, Diversity & Multicultural Affairs