Member Corner

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.

Jump to: 2022


Travis Kibota, Ph. D., Clark College

Can you share about yourself and your interest in systemic change in STEM higher education?

I am a Biology Professor at Clark College, a community college in Vancouver, Washington (just across the Columbia River from Portland).  I've been at Clark since 1994 and have spent time in a lot of other jobs at Clark when the need has arisen—Division Chair, Dean, Associate Vice President.  I stumbled into community college teaching.  When I was finishing my PhD at the University of Oregon, I needed to find a job in biology (or I'd have to pay back the NIH training fellowship that had supported me during my doctoral studies), but we were constrained to remain near Eugene Oregon for family reasons.  There were six community college biology teaching jobs open that year.  I applied for all six (never having set foot in a community college classroom) and was somehow offered one. I've been at Clark ever since. 

I had no real understanding or appreciation for community colleges or our students.  I imagine that's the case for most people who have spent their careers at 4-year schools, especially research institutions.  Heck, in many ways, it's even true of most community college faculty members.  It took me the better part of 20 years, gaining experiences from the community college faculty perspective and from experiencing different levels of administration, before I felt like I could speak intelligently about community college systems.  And I'm still learning.  I'm involved in STEM transfer learning communities at my local institution, across Washington State, and nationally as part of the HHMI Inclusive Excellence 3.0 program.  One thing I've learned well—it's in the faculty role where I feel the most agency and am most empowered to lead systemic change.  Community college have so much to contribute to STEM higher education.  Our students are numerous and rich with diversity that is not traditionally represented in the STEM fields.  Beyond that, community college faculty have hard-earned experience and expertise in supporting students who face what often seem like impossible barriers.  We can and should be participants in systemic change.  Yet so many community college faculty opt out—too little time, uncertainty about how to contribute, and chronic imposter syndrome.  All of this pushes me past my own introversion and imposturous feelings to represent community college faculty, as I am in this Member Corner feature.

How has being a part of ASCN impacted your efforts at systemic change in the community college context?

I was a member of a Clark College team (along with two of our Deans of STEM and Social Science, Peter Williams and Miles Jackson) that participated in the 2017 Leadership Institute for Scaling & Sustaining Institutional Change (the first of what would become the ASCN Systemic Change Institute).  It was during this Institute when I first considered systemic change as a describable process, where I recognized the need to find and connect the people who would be important levers of change, and where I first realized the power of speaking to those people in their own language, focusing on how their interests would be satisfied.  Not Earth-shattering (English 101 stuff, really), but something that was important for me to have in the front of my brain.

Andrea Beach and Maura Borrego were mentors for our team.  They helped us set the foundation for a project to expand course-based undergraduate research throughout our college curriculum.  The fact that we have sustained this project, over six years and through a pandemic, and are making headway, now in partnership with our closest transfer institution, Washington State University-Vancouver, is evidence that Andrea's and Maura's efforts paid dividends. More directly, at the individual level, Andrea continues to email me (just when I think she's forgotten who I am), with requests for my participation in one initiative or another.  She's good at that.  I'm sure many of you know what I'm talking about...  I've benefitted from this participation immensely.  Each time I've leaned in, I've learned new things that inform and improve my efforts to contribute to making STEM more inclusive of community colleges.

 Something that our network members might not know about you...

I firmly subscribe to the wisdom of Groucho Marx, "I don't want to belong to any club that would have me as a member."  So, the fact that I'm being featured in this month's Member's Corner means we need to get more community college people involved.


Lara Appleby, Ph. D., Tufts University

Tell us about yourself...

I have been working in STEM education for the past 10 years, mostly at the post-secondary level and often with a focus on change. Most recently, I've been running professional development for post-secondary STEM faculty and graduate students and contributing to scholarship in teaching and learning. I am especially interested in supporting teachers in trying to understand what students are thinking -- and appreciating the sensible place they are coming from.

What is your interest in systemic change in STEM higher education?

In this area, I often feel like a curious child with many questions: Who arethe players in this landscape? Where does power lie? What helps positive change happen? What kind of structures and culture support constructive synergies?

What are you most excited about in your new role co-leading the Learning Spaces working group?

Getting to know each group member: What's your particular professional context? What have you been trying to change? What has helped you along the way?

Something about your that our network members might not know....

I am of Jewish descent. My great uncle changed our family name (from Applebaum to Appleby) in an effort to avoid discrimination in the business world.


Sheela Vemu, Ph. D., Waubonsee Community College, IL

Tell us about yourself and your interest in systemic change in STEM higher education.

My role: Associate Professor at Biology, Waubonsee Community College, IL. I am a BioQUEST curriculum consortium fellow, contributor to the development of the Scientific Teaching Course from the National Institute of Scientific Teaching (NIST) and Editorial Board member for CBE-Life Sciences Education (LSE) journal.

My background: My doctoral training is in Pharmacology and Molecular biology. Recently, my scholarship has shifted to science education. I enjoy working with all students, especially freshman/sophomores from diverse backgrounds in biology education research projects in the aspects of effective study strategies and metacognition. I am passionate about implementing Course -Based Undergraduate Experiences (CUREs) with the lens of quantitative data literacy to foster inclusion in a community college classroom. I continue to use Scientist Spotlight assignments and data interpretation modules with scientific contributions of scientists who are members of historically excluded groups. Teaching is the way I connect with people, especially young people. I learn so much from them in trying to figure out how to help them learn.

My interest in systemic change in STEM higher education:

Half of all biology undergraduates start their education at a community college, yet only a very small proportion of professional development avenues and biology education research papers include a strong focus on community college environment which includes transfer, allied health, career readiness and workforce development. There are 1400 community colleges offering low-cost workforce development training for high skilled jobs with opportunities for transfer to four-year institutions ((U.S. Department of Education, 2017).

I have often wondered, what might it take to showcase the educational innovations and best practices that are led by the practitioners at community college ecosystems. I joined ASCN so I can find a space to brainstorm, collaborate and contribute to some of the framing questions that are necessary to center the experiences of the students who receive their basic scientific undergraduate education in a community college.  This is a vital issue, given that the majority of undergraduates from marginalized and minoritized backgrounds attend CCs or 2-yr colleges (National Center for Education Statistics, 2021). I feel privileged to be able to work with such a diverse and committed group of faculty, staff and students in the community college space. My involvement with the greater community of Chicago by serving as the auxiliary board member of Chicago Council on Science and Technology(C2ST) in leading the suburban chapter of Latinx/e in the STEM series has allowed me to bring conversations about moving forward in STEM landscapes with an equity lens. I have been deeply impacted by the student mentoring platforms for applied undergraduate research from Illinois Science and Technology Coalition Mentor Matching Engine and the mentor-mentee relationships developed by professional organizations of  Women In Bio MAPS.

How has being a part of ASCN impacted your systemic change efforts in the community college context?

ASCN has been a powerful place for me to grow, learn and contribute. I have been involved with many scholars and advocates whose work has been influenced by direction at ASCN. During my three-year involvement with ASCN, I have contributed to two very diverse working groups. The first one that I was involved in was the Working Group 5: Inclusion, Diversity and Social Justice. I enjoyed co-leading the first ASCN Inclusive STEM Teaching Project ASCN Learning community in 2021. In my workings with Group 5, I learned the skills of building learning communities to foster shared common goals and attitudes while promoting an equitable participation of all members. It gave me a platform to bring the voices of the community college landscape with STEM practitioners from other institution types. The opportunities to be informed by the lived perspectives from different stakeholders, led me to ponder about the aspects of implementing and scaling change. I see myself as a change agent at the grassroots level. It made sense to me, so I got involved with Working group 2: Costs, Benefits and Demonstrating Impact would help in learning some of the expertise from the economics perspective. During my involvement with this group, I had opportunities to listen and learn from various stakeholders in the STEM higher education realm on the metrics of evaluating the cost of change. The working group members enabled me to explore the benefits of not only implementing change but also scaling it. In conversations with Linda Slakey, Ph.D. I was able to assess and document the current conditions of change at two-year college ecosystems. With a fellow ASCN member and faculty colleague, Ileana Vasu, Ph.D. we presented an overview map of the financial costs for change as it relates to barriers and how and where the resources may be allocated to create sustainable impact in a two-year system. With the knowledge gained from these working group interactions, I presented the PULSE Ambassador Program as part of the ASCN Webinars on Empowering Change

Can you share something about yourself that our network members might not know?

I love traveling overseas and enjoy practicing yoga and walking meditations.


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.

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