Project Aims to Mentor and Support Researchers from Diverse Backgrounds

Kayunta Johnson-Winters

A multi-university team led by Associate Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Kayunta Johnson-Winters has received funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to increase the number of underrepresented STEM faculty within the University of Texas System by mentoring advanced doctoral students, postdoctoral fellows and junior faculty through the tenure and promotion process.

With $1.8 million, The University of Texas at Arlington is the lead institution on the $3.2 million NSF grant, which is split among four other University of Texas System institutions: University of Texas at Dallas, University of Texas at El Paso, University of Texas at San Antonio and the University of Texas at Austin. Johnson-Winters will work with collaborators at UT System and all five universities involved in the project.

At UTA, Subhrangsu Mandal, professor of chemistry and biochemistry, and James Grover, graduate school dean and professor of biology, are co-principal investigators.

“As a professor in STEM who understands the challenges of the tenure and promotion process, I hold this research project near and dear to my heart,” Johnson-Winters said. “The goal of this project is to contribute to systemic change by increasing diversity opportunities among the faculty ranks through an adaptable, evidence-based model that provides a strong system with inclusive mentoring and sponsorship of underrepresented researchers interested in joining academia.”

Johnson-Winters and colleagues will work to recruit 15 doctoral students, postdoctoral fellows and junior faculty from each participating Texas university, totaling about 100 individuals. These participants will receive inclusive mentoring designed to address any systemic barriers. Details of their individual experiences will be collected and analyzed to understand the effectiveness of the model so that they may be used at other institutions or industries looking to increase their ranks of individuals from underrepresented backgrounds.

Recruitment and retention of STEM employees from different backgrounds has been and continues to be a challenge in the United States. This is especially true in higher education where few people from underrepresented backgrounds join the faculty ranks, she said.

“In Texas, people from underrepresented backgrounds represent nearly 54% of the total population, but they are only 16% of the tenured or tenure-track faculty,” Johnson-Winters said. “This project will help us deploy and refine tools that will help underrepresented faculty succeed in academia, so the teachers better reflect the population we serve.”

All five of the UT System schools involved in the project are designated as R-1: Doctoral Universities-Very High Research Activity by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. Four of the schools are also Hispanic Serving Institutions.

Graduate school deans and tenured faculty from those five universities will each serve as co-principal investigators on the project on their home campuses. The University of Texas at Tyler, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and University of Texas Permian Basin will also participate in the project.

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