Strength in difference
A diversity of perspectives, experiences, genders, backgrounds, races, ethnicities, talents and interests significantly strengthens and deepens the CALS experience. Since 1898 – when naturalist became the first woman to join the Cornell faculty – the college has worked to enroll a diverse student body and hire faculty and staff from all walks of life.
Efforts and activities to achieve these goals are the joint responsibility of the senior leadership of the college including the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, the Faculty Committee on Diversity and Inclusion, and the Office of Academic Programs, which includes a diversity component in its undergraduate admissions and student services. Diversity is necessary to continually build an equitable, welcoming and thriving community at Cornell CALS.
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CALS has the most diverse student body on campus and instituted a human diversity course requirement for all undergraduates more than 15 years ago. But more work needs to be done. Here is what we are doing for our students:
- We aim to increase recruitment and improve retention of Native American and Indigenous students at all levels – undergraduates, transfers and graduate students. We work closely with the American Indian and Indigenous Studies Program (AIISP) to build a community of belonging at Cornell that supports and celebrates indigenous cultures. This includes offering courses in Indigenous studies, providing programming, having a dedicated student support person for Indigenous students, and sponsoring residence life activities at the AIISP program house Akwe:kon, the first residence hall in the country dedicated to North American Indigenous cultures and heritage.
- We aim to increase recruitment of Native American students by working with other Land-Grant institutions to identify transfer students.
- We are generating a global community of diverse scholars. The CALS Office of International Engagement is working with several groups across campus, including the CALS Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Cornell Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives (OADI) and Les Femmes de Substance (a student organization that focuses on leadership opportunities for women of color) to increase underrepresented minority participation in study abroad programs offered by CALS and by the Cornell Office of Global Learning. The purpose of this cooperative effort is to increase URM participation in study abroad by building awareness, connections and resources to support an inclusive advising model.
- We are expanding summer internship, networking and development opportunities for underrepresented students, including:
- The Prefreshman Summer Program (PSP) brings together students from different backgrounds and ethnicities for classes and enrichment programs to bridge the gap between their high school and college experiences. Students generally enroll in regular summer-session courses; enrichment courses in areas such as writing, chemistry or mathematics; and/or a college-achievement seminar. CALS is actively working with PSP students.
- We have launched a new Peer Mentoring Program to support underrepresented minorities (URMs) and first-generation students in CALS, providing training for mentors through workshops and courses and pairing new students with mentors they can relate to through similar experiences and interests. Mentors begin communications with students over the summer and continue a dialogue with the students until the end of the fall semester. This supplements academic mentoring with a mentoring experience specifically focused on the student’s transition to Cornell.
Our graduate students and postdocs are the future of academia and will form the nexus of engaged scientists, researchers and scholars, ensuring that science-based decision-making is used in policy and practice. Together with the Graduate School’s Office of Inclusion and Student Engagement (OISE), we are working to provide an inclusive and holistic approach to graduate and postdoctoral training, professional development, community building and career success. Here is what we are doing:
- We are recruiting and building a community of diverse graduate students by transforming our graduate admission standards across the college to reduce bias and promote the inclusion of diverse experiences in the process of evaluating applications.
- We are building networks to support retention of graduate students from diverse backgrounds, promoting programs – such as the NexGen Professors Program, Colman Leadership Program and Summer Success Program – and supporting students in research, teaching and mentoring of undergraduate students.
- Organized by graduate students in the fields of ecology and evolutionary biology (EEB), entomology and the School of Integrative Plant Science (SIPS), the Diversity Preview Weekend program targets prospective students in their junior year of college before they apply to graduate school. By reaching out to those who have historically not been part of the research community network, we hope to make academic and research communities better reflect society. For the spring 2019 weekend, about 40 students from across the country, as well as Puerto Rico and Guam, came to Cornell to learn about graduate life by visiting research labs, talking with faculty and attending workshops focused on giving students the tools they need to prepare successful graduate school applications.
- The CALS Office of Academic Programs offers funding to graduate fields for recruiting URM graduate students.
- The Department of Food Science hosts a 10-week undergraduate research program to recruit students to consider graduate study in that field. This experience gives students who are interested in food science the opportunity to 1) conduct research under the mentorship of a Cornell faculty member, 2) participate in several field trips related to food science and 3) meet with experts in the food industry. Over the last five years, 31% of the participants were URM students.
- We are engaging in department-level efforts:
- The Molecular Biology and Genetics Diversity Advisory Council was created to improve the department’s climate for underrepresented students. This group, run by graduate students, provides a safe place to discuss concerns related to diversity and inclusion. It has a graduate student peer mentor program that organizes activities, provides guidance on qualifying exams and runs a textbook exchange. This group also serves as peer mentors for the Molecular Biology and Genetics Research Experiences for Undergraduates summer program.
- SIPS formed the Achieving Belonging in our Community (ABC) Working Group in which students, postdocs, faculty and staff work to better educate the SIPS community about inclusive and supportive behavior. This group holds town hall style meetings to discuss issues associated with diversity and inclusion and take actions to improve the climate for students, faculty and staff.
With more than 200 transfer students from all around the world enrolling in CALS each year, we are dedicated to creating a seamless transition for transfer students. We are working to further develop transfer programs with international organizations in order to increase the enrollment of international undergraduate students.
CALS is active in recruiting and helping veteran students with their transition to Cornell. The tuition-free Veterans Summer Bridge Program, open to transfer and first-year applicants, is designed for strong candidates who we believe could benefit from summer courses and a comprehensive support program. Cornell University was ranked No. 3 in the 2020 U.S. News & World Report best college rankings for schools that participate in federal initiatives helping veterans and active-duty service members pay for their degrees.
Faculty and staff
Cornell CALS is committed to hiring faculty and staff who share our historical commitment to “any person in any study,” as well as increasing the diversity of our entire employee community. Here is what we are doing:
- Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion. The associate dean for diversity and inclusion, Chelsea Specht, leads efforts to recruit and retain diverse faculty, support graduate student admissions and retention; address issues associated with the admission and performance of diverse undergraduate students; and support CALS in programming associated with Belonging at Cornell. Reach her at cals_odi [at] cornell.edu.
- Kathy Berggren Diversity and Inclusion Award. Each year the CALS Diversity and Inclusion Committee awards the Kathy Berggren Diversity and Inclusion Award to recognize members of the CALS faculty or academic staff who have made significant contributions to enhancing a positive and inclusive climate in their teaching, research and/or extension programs.
- CALS Learning Community Lunch. The CALS Office of Academic Programs hosts a series of monthly presentations and discussions centering on the theme of inclusive teaching. In these discussions, faculty from across the college share best practices from their classrooms.
- CALS Teaching Experience. This teaching workshop has been offered by CALS for more than 30 years. For the last three years, CALS has included special sessions on improving classroom climate and incorporating student-centered, active learning activities into the classroom.
- Professional Development Workshops and Seminars. CALS and the Center for Teaching Innovation periodically cohost speakers who present workshops and seminars on cultural competency, inclusive teaching and student support.
- Online Course: The Center for Teaching Innovation offers an online course, Teaching and Learning in the Diverse Classroom. Participation in this course is promoted through our Learning Community Lunches.
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