Get to know the fantastic members of our network! On a semi-monthly basis we feature an ASCN network member so you can learn about others engaged in the work of advancing systemic change in STEM higher education and learn about their unique paths.
Madhura Kulkarni, Ph. D., Northern Kentucky University
Tell us about yourself and your interest in systemic change in STEM higher education.
My role: Director, Center for Integrative Natural Science and Mathematics (CINSAM) at Northern Kentucky University. I'm also an associate professor of Biological Sciences.
My background: Masters and Ph.D. in environmental science, specifically biogeochemistry, and ecosystem ecology
My interest in systemic change in STEM higher education: As the director of a P-16 STEM center, it is my job to promote systemic change in STEM in higher education. We at CINSAM are proud to have a 23-year history of promoting enthusiasm, equity, and excellence in STEM teaching, learning, and scholarship at P-12 and undergraduate levels (our mission). We partner with our students, faculty, and staff—as well as our broader community—to understand and meet systemic change needs as they evolve. I feel privileged to be able to work with—and in service to—such a diverse and committed group of people, mainly the people of NKU and the Northern Kentucky/Greater Cincinnati community, but also people around the world who work toward similar goals.
How has being a part of ASCN impacted your systemic change efforts in the Primarily Undergraduate Institution (PUI) context?
As part of ASCN, I have been exposed to a lot of people and research that has influenced my thinking and my activities. I do not have much time for research in my current full-time administrative role supervising a STEM center at a PUI. And even though we have many highly accomplished scholars at Northern Kentucky University, they are stretched very thin with 4/4 teaching loads. The written and video resources on ASCN's website and the information coming to me through ASCN emails have been quite valuable. I have only participated in an online Transforming Institutions Conference but that was very helpful too! I have met colleagues who provided valuable insights. One example is using resources about change theories to inform our theory of change for an NSF proposal last year. The grant was funded and we are now using the Four Frames theory to inform systemic change as part of our new TRUE ACCCESS program, which aims to facilitate transitions into and through college, as well as into STEM careers for transfer students and student from underrepresented racial and ethnic backgrounds.
Can you share something about yourself that our network members might not know?
I love outdoor activities like hiking, biking, and scuba diving. We also have four chickens!
Melissa Haswell, Ph. D., Delta College
Tell us about yourself and your interest in systemic change in STEM higher education...
My interest in higher education as more than a student began while working on my M.S. in biology. I had a teaching assistantship, which opened my eyes to what has become a passion for me - being a science educator. While working on my Ph.D., I really became interested in becoming a change agent in STEM education, which is where I decided to focus my academic work. My dissertation examined the culture of a biology department while they were implementing a new curriculum based on the AAAS Vision and Change Framework. Another aspect of my research examined the development of faculty scholarly identity. This led me down a path towards working with several change-agent groups in biology education such as QUBES/BioQuest, Science Case Network, and HHMI BioInteractive. Through this work, I found ASCN, where I have been working to become an active member.
Currently, I have two research projects that I am working on with faculty. One is based on an anti-racist pedagogy project for introductory biology courses that I am working on under the leadership of Bryan Dewsbury and Tess Killpack. In addition, I am working with a chemistry faculty to implement CUREs in his organic chemistry course. I am collecting data to determine how the CURE affected the science identity of the students. We are planning to develop a pipeline that will involve the CURE students mentoring high school students during the summer. Our ultimate goal is to apply for an NSF grant to support this work.
Can share how being a part of ASCN has impacted your systemic change efforts in the 2-year college context?
Being a part of ASCN has really enhanced my ability to influence the faculty I work with as Associate Dean of Science and Mathematics at Delta College. The change frameworks, professional development, and learning community that I have found with ASCN have really changed the way I approach my work. As Associate Dean, I have the ability to work with faculty to develop their own course-based research projects, implement new curricular changes and influence the overall approach to education in my division. Being able to understand the change process and have practical frameworks and guidance for implementation are helping me make a difference in my work.
Can you share something about yourself that our network members might not know?
An interesting part of my past that others may not be aware of is that I did product development and customer education (phone consultations and product education materials) at a small holistic pet food company for five years. I guess this really sparked my love for educating people even though it was at a more individual level.
When I am not working; I enjoy camping and backpacking. I also do a lot of volunteer work. This includes various bird surveys, for U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the Audubon Society, as well as local organizations. I am currently on the board of directors at the Chippewa Nature Center in Midland and volunteer with Little Forks Conservancy.
Ruthmae Sears, Ph.D., University of South Florida
Dr. Ruthmae Sears is an associate professor for mathematics education and the associate director for the Coalition of Science Literacy at the University of South Florida. She is committed to attending to justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) across mathematics and the broader STEM curricula.
On community organizing work to address systemic racism...
Dr. Sears has led multiple studies, some of which focused explicitly on advancing anti-racism initiatives in STEM and the Tampa Bay community. For instance, Dr. Sears was the principal investigator for the City of St. Petersburg, Florida funded study (2021) entitled "Examination of historical and modern-day impact of structural racism on the lives of Black people in the City of St. Petersburg, Florida." The study's results indicated that policies and practices and differences in the support offered to schools and communities with predominantly Black versus White populations negatively impacted the overall quality of life of Black residents. Dr. Sears is also the co-principal of the NSF Funded (#2142714) study entitled "Challenging Anti-Black Racism in Civil and Environmental Engineering Curriculum." She helps design and facilitates a systemic approach to address anti-black racism in the civil and environmental engineering curriculum. Additionally, Dr. Sears organizes the university's Enlightenment Series and co-developed the university-wide "Inclusive and Equitable Pedagogy Course". Thus, Dr. Sears has gained experience with curriculum development, enactment, and assessment to advance JEDI in STEM, higher education, and the community.
On what STEM higher education change leaders learn from her community organizing efforts...
To advance JEDI, planning, leveraging networks, and monitoring the enacted change ideas are essential. She notes it takes a village to catalyze change in higher education that can be sustained over time. In addition to examining inequities, she encourages individuals to model the desired practice, provide training opportunities for individuals to learn, and extend grace to individuals to move beyond past mistakes.
How working with ASCN has impacted her efforts to address systemic racism in STEM...
Dr. Sears enjoys co-chairing the Equity and Inclusion Working Group (WG5) with Pat Marsteller. Working with the ASCN Network provided her insight into enacting the four-square typology of change framework to attend to JEDI in her courses and institutional initiatives explicitly. She also learned from peers about current initiatives used in various settings and obtained support to move the needle from racial trauma to racial healing. She acknowledges that the supportive and informative environment promotes resiliency in addressing systemic racism in STEM.
Something that our network members might not know...
Given the fatigue faced in efforts to address racism, Dr. Sears emphasizes the importance of maintaining mental health. She enjoys going to the beach and taking walks in botanical gardens to rejuvenate and promote her well-being.