Virginia Tech advances its goal to be a destination for diverse faculty talent
December 7, 2022
When Cana Itchuaqiyaq attended the Future Faculty Diversity Program in 2020, she saw the mentorship that the career-building program offered as a way to prepare for her job search in alternative academic careers.
Instead, the rigorous three-day professional development course “completely changed my trajectory,” said Itchuaqiyaq, now an assistant professor of professional and technical writing at Virginia Tech.
“I decided that my career goals, which are to use my education to benefit my people, were better served at VT,” she said. “I felt like I had people truly rooting for me here as I advocated for my work and claimed my space.”
Since 2019, almost 30 new minority tenure-track faculty and post-doctoral fellows have been hired at Virginia Tech through the program in colleges across the university.
Started in 2010, the program has introduced prospective underrepresented faculty to university life and prepared them for the academic job market. It also seeks to establish meaningful relationships with these scholars, creating a network of researchers in priority areas and giving them a preview of what it would be like to join the Virginia Tech community.
Erica Cooper, assistant provost for faculty diversity, joined Virginia Tech’s Office for Inclusion and Diversity in 2020 and stepped into the director role of the program soon after. She quickly recognized the potential that the program had for advancing the university’s goals. “I think the program fills an important gap in bringing diverse candidates into Virginia Tech’s applicant pool,” she said.
While navigating the challenges that the pandemic posed during her first year administering the program, Cooper sought to expand the scope and reach of its recruitment potential. “It’s not just about providing these individuals with information that helps them navigate the academic space, it’s also an opportunity for us to sell Virginia Tech to them,” she said.
Her intuition and efforts paid off. Not only has the program dramatically expanded the number of fellows since she took over, from 29 in 2020 to 44 in 2021, but Virginia Tech also has extended offers to 23 members of the 2021 cohort, a much larger percentage than in years past. Last year, 16 former fellows joined the current 26 faculty fellows, resulting in 42 faculty that have been recruited through the program and are now embedded in every college at Virginia Tech.
Candidates are recruited through a variety of avenues, including referrals from Virginia Tech faculty or faculty from other universities as well as independent applicants who find the program through external diversity-focused organizations. Those who are selected for each year’s cohort come to Virginia Tech’s campus and attend a variety of events that afford them time with deans, department heads, and faculty members across the university.
Much of this interaction comes in the form of workshops centered around challenges that new and prospective faculty members face. Guest presenters address issues such as time management, securing funding for research, and preparing to search for a job in academia.
In addition to these workshops, attendees spend a full day with their respective departments. They have the chance to tour research facilities and meet with current faculty members, giving them an appreciation of the scope and depth of the opportunities in their respective fields at Virginia Tech.
Phil Thompson, an assistant professor of organizational behavior, saw tremendous value in the one-on-one time he received with members of the administration of the Pamplin College of Business. “They were very down-to-earth people, very knowledgeable, and they gave me a good preview of the resources and the experience I would have at Virginia Tech.”
Fellows have an immediate opportunity to put what they learned during their workshops to the test, as the department visits also function as job interviews. They are tasked with giving presentations, guest-lecturing in classes, and other methods of demonstrating their preparedness for a professorial career.
Cooper emphasized that this program is not only a track to becoming employed at Virginia Tech, but it is also a potential pathway to long-term career success. “This program is 12 years old, and we have people who extend as far back as 2012 who are still faculty at Virginia Tech, including recently tenured faculty,” she said. “It’s important that we let the fellows see these examples of success.”
The attendees get a chance to see such an impact during the first day’s dinner event, where they interact with past fellows who were hired by Virginia Tech. “It’s a great opportunity for them to pair with people from their departments who have recently gone through this process,” Cooper said. “They can get advice to help them navigate it and prepare for their interviews.”
One of the biggest benefits, however, doesn’t come during the program itself but within the community of fellows that has grown around the university. As Thompson noted, having a group of people on campus who went through a similar experience greatly helps with acclimating to Virginia Tech. The community also has the opportunity to engage in continued professional development through the Office of Inclusion and Diversity, even after graduating from the program.
And the increasing presence of Future Faculty Diversity Program (FFDP) fellows on campus has greatly improved the campus experience in general. “The biggest impact I see on campus is that my peer group on campus is really diverse and interdisciplinary,” Itchuaqiyaq said. “I am able to get a broader view of the university through FFDP and recognize how VT is committed to making our school an inclusive and diverse space.”
Based on his experience with the program, Thompson encouraged prospective candidates to apply without hesitation.
“The Future Faculty visit was the most tailor-made experience that I’ve had in my academic journey. The host departments really roll out the red carpet, as they see it as an investment in you,” said Thompson.
Even if the program doesn’t result in joining Virginia Tech faculty at first, the benefits from the program transcend the university.
“No matter where you end up, though hopefully here at Virginia Tech, the group mentoring and professionalization strategies you’ll receive will be beneficial to you,” Itchuaqiyaq said.
In addition to the professional development panels, Thompson cited the benefits of interacting with current faculty and other program participants. “There are connections that you make through your visit here, both personally and professionally, that will be beneficial as you begin your academic career,” he said.
The Future Faculty Diversity Program has become a powerful instrument in both expanding opportunities for underrepresented minorities in academia and diversifying the voices that students will encounter on campus.
“This program is an essential strategy connected to InclusiveVT, the institutional and individual commitment to Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), in the spirit of community, diversity, and excellence,” said Menah Pratt, vice president for strategic affairs and diversity. “This program advances our InclusiveVT commitment, as well as our aspirations that are part of our strategic plan, ‘The Virginia Tech Difference: Advancing Beyond Boundaries’. In particular, it supports our faculty diversity goals that are part of the Ut Prosim Difference strategic priority. We are just thrilled with all of the new faculty talent we have attracted to Virginia Tech in the past few years through this program.”
Virginia Tech welcomes the 16 alumni from the 2021 FFDP cohort who joined the faculty in 2022:
- Sergio Barrera, College of Science
- Chaz Briscoe, College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences
- Autumn Brown, College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences
- Jordan Budhu, College of Engineering
- Mercedes Corredor, College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences
- Daniel Cortes, College of Science
- Jaeyoung Ha, College of Arts, Architecture, and Design
- Brittany Hunt, College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences
- Maretta McDonald, College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences
- Monet Roberts, College of Engineering
- Giovanni Ramirez, College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences
- Susan Sajadi, College of Engineering
- Daniel Smith, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
- Lezly Taylor, College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences
- Mary Wesley, Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine
- Kelly Wright, College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences
By Joshua Sweeney