What do bedbugs have to do with ecology, housing policy, and data mining? How does motherhood affect one’s chances of achieving tenure? Why do measures of impact for scientific research need to be revised and expanded? These questions and many more were discussed on campus this fall thanks to scholars invited through the BRIDGE initiative.
Originated and shepherded by a group of graduate students from the School of Earth & Sustainability, BRIDGE provides supplemental funding to bring early career researchers from underrepresented groups to campus as part of the invited lecture series of the School’s departments. BRIDGE Scholars each also present a separate event focused on broader impacts (BRIDGE2Impacts) and meet informally with graduate students (BRIDGE2Students) during their visit. The students’ aim is to help rising scientists connect with a more diverse community beyond what already exists at UMass.
The BRIDGE Coordinating Committee includes students Benjamin Keisling, Raquel Bryant, Nigel Golden, Mariela Garcia Arredondo, and Nadia Hernandez. The team originally proposed the initiative as part of the Campus Climate improvement grant process. With several scholar visits now under their belts, the organizers are reflecting on the various impacts of the program itself, both from the platform they’ve provided and from their invited guests.
Mariela Garcia Arredondo sees the initiative as “a means for pushing the conversation forward in academia about what can be done about representation, equality, and justice in our fields.” She points out, "the academy poses barriers to members of our broader community, and we need to recognize what they are and how to fix that. The fact that we at UMass are providing this strongly supported platform makes me feel very honored and overjoyed to have contributed.” Nigel Golden adds, “Academia already has the structures in place to recognize our intellectual accomplishments, but we should be more willing to recognize, appreciate, and motivate more scientists to share the impacts of their work.”
“The most surprising and rewarding part of the series for me has been BRIDGE2Impacts,” says Benjamin Keisling. “We all know what an invited colloquium (BRIDGE2Science) and a mentoring lunch (BRIDGE2Students) look like — but when we started BRIDGE, even we were unsure about what we wanted out of an impacts-focused event,” he says. “Each scholar put such a personal spin on their BRIDGE2Impacts event. What that taught us was that scholars who visit campus have a lot of useful narratives to share that transcend but still inform their scientific research,” he notes.
“All we had to do in order to tap into that intellectual capital was to provide the platform — everything else took care of itself.” —Benjamin Keisling
The new perspectives of the scholars were personally meaningful as well as these graduate students consider their own careers. For example, Nyeema Harris presented a different approach to the early years before an academic becomes tenured. Rather than holding back to wait for job security, Harris advocated working boldly to create an environment reflective of one’s values. Keisling reports that what he took away was empowering: "If your scholarship and activism around issues of diversity, equity and inclusion are what restrict you from being promoted, then that isn’t a healthy environment for you to be working in anyway.”
Another audience member also commented on the value of seeing the scholars’ interdisciplinary work. “I've realized that even the act of community building across disciplines and departments can be a broader impact. Especially if we pool together our stakeholders and are able to produce knowledge that is more useful for them.” Golden points to an example from Harris: “She gave the audience tools to reevaluate and amend the metrics used to measure the impact of scientific research on society and the natural environment. She points out that everyone leaves a footprint on the natural system – and that we need to help promote and stimulate awe and appreciation for that system.” He adds, “It is inspiring to see the faculty grappling with and caring about the same issues that I do as a graduate student.”
Creating a space for personal narratives has been one of the most meaningful outcomes of the series, say the organizers. “Professors are always recognized as scientific innovators and intellectual leaders, but rarely are we provided the chance to see the human side of their stories,” they write. During her visit, Samantha Ying discussed the leaky academic pipeline for mothers and the lack of flexibility and resources essential for single parents. Conferences, field work, and seminars all present challenges. Ying talked about the tremendous impact that a supportive advisor had for her, helping her troubleshoot her schedule in graduate school to balance research, motherhood, and coursework. Her personal story became a lens for understanding barriers many women face.
BRIDGE has inspired its audiences thus far, and it also provides the School of Earth & Sustainability (SES) a distinct platform for enhancing its seminar offerings. Darci Connor Maresca, assistant director for SES, says, “UMass progress on important issues related to sustainability, equity, and social justice is often led by student initiatives.” BRIDGE in particular is “exemplary of how UMass student leadership can seed meaningful change.”
The BRIDGE series continues in the spring with Roby Douilly, a geophysicist from University of California Riverside, visiting on January 25th, and Paula Welander, a microbiologist from Stanford University, presenting on March 26th. The student coordinating committee is also seeking additional members among graduate students in any CNS department. For SES, says Maresca, “Our goal is to incorporate the students’ strategy for increasing the representation and visibility of underrepresented scientists into our programming.” Keisling agrees, “I would love to see these events become keystone events in the SES calendar where we all come together and learn from one another.”