A Recipe For Success in Educating STEM Leaders

Stiffin_Rose MaryGuest blog By Dr. Rose Stiffin, Chairperson, Professor, and Biochemist, Florida Memorial University

Several years ago, I was fortunate enough to attend a local science conference. Because it was free, I took my upper level chemistry class. There were only three, so this was not an issue of space, reservations, or anything.

When we arrived, I was glad to see that my students were excited to attend, as this was their first science conference ever, and I was excited because they were. A great day to be had all around, I surmised.

During one of the breaks, an elderly gentleman approached me and introduced himself. Of course, I could not recall his name five minutes later, so there is no way I would remember anything about him now except his age, color, and the words he said to me after introducing himself: “I thought he would be out playing basketball,” indicating the lone young man in my class. The others were young ladies.

Initially, I found his statement amusing, if for no other reason than the young man in question was, in my opinion, short and painfully thin! He did not look particularly athletic to me and I could not imagine him going for a layup or a three-pointer. Then, the true meaning of this supposedly innocuous assumption hit me: my student is black, ergo, he should be out playing a sport. What a leap to make! But that is what this man meant. There were other males there, so it could not have been a place where his gender would have come into question. Could it have possibly been his race? After all, my students and I are part of the vast African Diaspora and the questioner definitely was not.

When I relayed this interchange with my students, they reacted with only vague interest. But I informed them that, because this man’s thinking is not unique, they may face such comments or questions as they travel through life.

One former student obtained a great internship in Texas. He was assigned to do a sophisticated spectral analysis of a molecule. Because his fellow lab worker had never heard of Florida Memorial University, he assumed that the student could not possibly grasp the instrument’s function or data output. He neglected to consider that some of his professors were Drs. Ayivi Huisso, Thomas Snowden, Telahun Desalegne, and me, Dr. Rose Mary Stiffin. I would say our unofficial collective motto is think or sink. The young man did not sink. From that one internship, he got a research paper published with his name as primary author–a distinguishing status that must be earned. He is now an MD-PhD.

When I first started teaching, my one goal was to graduate my freshmen class of science students. After that, I honestly had no thoughts. Just graduate them and see this as a major feat in my life as a so-called role model and mentor. One of the first graduates became a medical doctor. Then, another, and another, and another… In fact, since this first graduate, there have been approximately 95 of them, majoring in (pre) engineering, (pre) nursing, chemistry, or biology who have earned graduate degrees/professional degrees. We have produced engineers, molecular biologists, plant physiologists, dentists, pediatricians, obstetricians, nurses, pharmacists, pharmacologists, chiropractors, and microbiologists working at the CDC.

This means that, on average, we graduate six students yearly who become professionals in their field of endeavor. I’ve built a ‘wall’ upon which I place the names and photographs of these achievers as a testament to future students that ‘if they can, then you can, too.’

Is there a recipe for success? Well, nothing beats hard work, we can all agree on that. Communication helps, not simply with the students, but with other professors as well. If one student is failing physics, but making an A in biology, we discuss the professor’s practices, teaching methods, and how the student is assessed. Rarely has there been a student to fail one class and pass another with an A. Thus, we have continuity in addition to frank discussions. We do focused activities–reading and discussing science, and exploring the applicability of the work–that other universities deem ‘too difficult’ for the students and beyond their capabilities.

One of our former students visited last week. He is doing great. Married, a father, and a much sought-after consultant in the pharmaceutical industry. “To what do you owe your success?” I asked, not considering what his answer would be, just being naturally curious. He said that it was the science and theory he learned here, the ability to think critically, that we instilled in him here. Those were the qualities that propelled him to success. In one form or another, many of the professors here have heard the same words.

Oh, and that young man who should have been “out playing basketball?” He is a well-respected physician. The other two students? They both have their PhDs and are working in STEM/health areas–actively making a difference in the health of thousands.

The Value of Positive Civil Discourse in Making a More Perfect Union

Recently, I have been thinking about the nature, and value of, positive civil discourse while equally pondering the benefits of positive, nonviolent, civil disobedience. In our global village, we notice that few individuals and groups (of the billions of citizens on the planet), are choosing to express discontent and dissonance with political and governmental policies by engaging in violent demonstrations that often result in lost lives.

Even though opposing expressions to political ideologies and policies unnamedare not new, possibly, it is time to review and re-educate ourselves, and others, on the value of civil discourse, broadening our understandings,  and nonviolent civil disobedience that can also result in positive social change without the loss of human lives.

As long as there have been individuals and groups, there have also been disagreements-and sometimes violence to resolve those disagreements.  Some would argue, as societies continue to evolve technologically, it is equally important to help individuals and communities to develop their capacities for civil discourse, by recommending positive social actions that increase civil engagement, improve emotional intelligence, enhance the quality of life, and augment our understanding of global interdependence.

Many of us remember studying American transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) and reading his 1849 thesis Civil Disobedience in which he contemplated the nature of civil disobedience–highlighting, in his opinion, the right of the individual to resist government action or policies that were blatantly against an individual’s moral values or conscience.  Thoreau’s notion, and practice of, positive civil disobedience eventually resulted in his being arrested for not paying a poll tax.  Thoreau resisted the tax because  it conflicted with his conscience.  He believed that the funds generated from the tax would be used to finance the Mexican War, a campaign which he vehemently opposed.  Thoreau, further, saw the war as a means to expand slave territories in the United States, and he considered such an immoral undertaking.

unnamed-1From Thoreau’s thesis it appears that he is not arguing for no government, but that he is imagining a “State at least which can afford to be just to all men, and to treat the individual with respect as a neighbor; which even would not think it inconsistent with its own repose if a few were to live aloof from it, not meddling with it, nor embraced by it…” Even though it was penned over 100 years ago, Thoreau’s thesis reflects conflicts we continue to struggle with today.  He states further, “It is truly enough said that a corporation has no conscience; but a corporation of conscientious men is a corporation with a conscience.”

Without a doubt, America, and our global communities, have certainly changed a great deal since Thoreau’s thesis.  According to historians of civil disobedience, there have been many more examples of civil disobedience in which people, or movements, have changed policies and improved living conditions for communities, by employing varying degrees of civil disobedience to effect positive social outcomes.

Although they are too numerous to name, some prominent civil disobedience involved Mohandas “Mahatma” Gandhi (1869-1948), for his role in leading India to independence; Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968), for his role in leading the nation’s peaceful Civil Rights Movement until his assassination; Cesar Chavez (1927-1993) for his role in organizing a labor union to protect the rights of workers; Nelson Mandela (1918-2013) for his role in protesting apartheid which, after his imprisonment of nearly 30 years, eventually led to world recognition, a Nobel Peace Prize, and anti-apartheid improvements; and many more individuals–known and unknown–who have led and continue to inspire non-violent civil disobedience.NOT_hate_Fotor

So, what does this tell us as leaders of organizations, communities, and families?  Some might argue that it is our responsibility to ensure that students, and developing adults, are exposed to stories of non-violent civil disobedience–hopefully to counterbalance the other reports of more violent ways to resolve conflicts that are broadcasted via various news and entertainment media.

As managers of businesses and observers of interpersonal interactions, there are daily opportunities for us to model civil engagement, civil discourse, and decision-making that demonstrates the value of engagement of a broad range of individuals and appreciation of more diverse perspectives. As leaders, we can not only listen to diverse opinions and solutions with respect and understanding, but we can also help others recognize the value of diverse viewpoints.

Ultimately, the family is probably the first place to form meaningful viewpoints about the individual’s responsibilities in society. Possibly Jackson-2_Fotorconversations that occur in family worlds should also encompass strategies for supporting and expressing disagreement in civil and non-violent ways.  Because the family is the basic building block of society, when families actively promote listening, tolerance, civil discourse, and awareness of other cultures, they offer a strong foundation for productive civil discourse and nonviolent positive social action in our larger global communities.

As leaders–be it in our families, our workplaces, our communities, our nation, or anywhere on our Earth–it is our critical responsibility to help each other work towards truly forming a more perfect union, the intention stated in the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States of America.

Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience, thesis, 1849

Special thanks to Geri R. Vital, MA

How Can We Leverage the Creativity in the Workforce for a Better Future?

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source: http://evolllution.com/opinions/serving-the-next-generation-workforce/

I have been thinking lately a lot about work. What function does or should work have in establishing well-being in our society? Beyond earning salaries or wages, why should we work? Are there benefits in work beyond the satisfaction of performing your craft well? What role does work have in sustaining families and communities beyond paying household bills? Is there something ethereal in men/women that work touches, enhances or creates?  Can work lead to self-actualization–the merging of creativity with craft that lifts the individual, the organization, and the interrelated work families?

Probably as long as women/men have existed, there has been some version of work. It is reasonable to imagine that work for prehistoric humans related to tasks that increased survival–food, shelter, and probably other tasks related to Maslow’s hierarchy-physiological and safety needs. However, as many of us rush back and forth to work daily, we probably also realize that we share our lives with others in work worlds. These work worlds can furnish opportunities for us to collaborate and learn from colleagues while obtaining gratification and inspiration from attaining personal and professional goals. And, to attract new talents, some employers are realizing that work worlds need to evolve to fit the needs and expectations of several generations in the workplace.

From some Millennials, we are learning that work worlds that are more satisfying and supportive of a holistic and balanced lifestyle hold a competitive edge in recruiting new talent. Companies like Google attract Millennials with free food, dry cleaning, on-site fitness facilities, and flexible work schedules– attempting to respond to the values of this generation. Other employers report that Millennials work better in teams, when appreciation is shown, and when global opportunities are involved.

According to a 2014 article in Harvard Business Review, managers in the current and future workforce, are, and can be for some time, managing several generations of workers–the first time this situation has existed in history. Experts offer that managers should encourage collaboration, up and down mentoring, and above all, leverage the expertise of all individuals for a more creative and productive workforce.

As we redefine higher education and create technologically enhanced learning environments, leveraging expertise and promoting individual creativity will make all the difference in realizing the potential of higher education for a better future.

GENERATIONAL ISSUES
Managing People from 5 Generations
Rebecca Knight, Harvard Business Review,
SEPTEMBER 25, 2014

Happy Mother’s Day-Celebrating the Love and Hidden Workloads of so Many Women

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For most individuals, their mothers are, or have been, a special influence in their lives and contribute to their lifelong sense of love, compassion, and confidence. The love of a mother can encircle you like an invisible force field. Yet, often, mothers supply this nexus of love and support while juggling careers, personal and conflicting aspirations, and hidden familial workloads. This Mother’s Day, let us acknowledge the special place that mothers occupy in our lives and the complexity of their lives that is frequently hidden from our view.

Some time ago, a colleague and I conducted research on the hidden workloads of women in higher education. Our research was presented at conferences, and it was eventually published in an international publication focusing on women.

Basically, we surveyed and interviewed about 100 women in higher education from the rank of assistant professor to Vice President who worked at a highly-ranked and research, regional university. After we entered the 21st century, it seemed like a good time to take a pulse, to seek some perspectives, of women. We found that women reported a myriad of experiences that appeared to be unique to them. They reported having their voices ignored in departmental meetings; feeling pressured to produce research while balancing other familial responsibilities; and struggling to fit their contributions into an educational reward structure not normed on women.

Well, more than a decade has passed since we reported our findings. There have been many changes since then—including that a woman, and a mother, is now running for President of the United States. However, there is still much work to do. Our mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters still earned only 77 cents for every dollar that men earned in 2012, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.  Further, some believe that many workplaces could be further enhanced by the voices and leadership styles of more women.

So, this Mother’s Day, as we celebrate our mothers with flowers, fine jewelry, and special dinners, let us lean in and take a good look at the lives, perspectives, aspirations, and hidden workloads of these women.

May the lives and contributions of mothers to humanity continue to be enhanced and appreciated!

From Specific Competencies to Career Pathways

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Recently, some faculty and staff colleagues at Florida Memorial University submitted a proposal to compete for a Career Pathways grant. The purpose of this national competition was to encourage institutions to partner with business and industry leaders to refine academic programs, curricular, and co-curricular experiences to assure that students leave with competencies needed in specific workforces and careers. The grant’s overarching assumption is that more collaboration between industry leaders and faculty would lead to clearer career pathways for students from academic programs to current and emerging disciplines/workforce needs.

While this, in itself, is not a new idea, the grantors appear to be echoing the sentiments of many students, parents, employers, and taxpayers regarding the thorny transitions from academic degree programs to desired employment.

Ironically, nearly a thousand years ago or so, it was common for younger persons seeking to acquire specific competencies to work alongside skilled craftsmen until they could demonstrate mastery. Thus, there was a closer and more discernible link between specialized knowledge, experiential learning, and competencies related to entrance into specific professions and trades.

Nearly a millennium later,  after the multiplication of universities, degree programs, certifications, accreditation organizations, unions, and more formalized apprenticeship and internship programs, the link between learner and mastery of specific competencies seems to have eroded. Educators and policy analysts regularly point out varying disconnects between the learning outcomes of high school and the admissions requirements for college. Others note similar disconnects between college degree outcomes and competencies needed for admission into well-paying jobs.

Probably because of the costs involved for individuals and families in pursuing a college education, the expectation is that the investment will guarantee the acquisition of specific competencies that in turn will lead to well-paying careers and middle-class lifestyles.

According to some,  “credentialing” has gone amok in the 21st century. Instead of facilitating a clear pathway from higher education to a career, some colleges and universities have been viewed as generating a proliferation of degrees that load students with irrelevant courses, leaving them with burgeoning debt, and not closer to well-paying careers. Further, families have observed that students seeking entrance into specific careers and the job market, in general, find themselves confused and facing what many view as a fragmented array of educational options and undefined competencies from secondary school through advanced education.

Education stakeholders such as the Lumina Foundation, America Council on Education, and the Lilly Foundation, to name a few, have sought to increase transparency and clarity in credentialing in higher education by engaging in a national dialogue about the need for clearer paths from secondary schools to specific careers.

Thus, the work by faculty and staff at Florida Memorial University to clearly describe degree competencies and engage in dialogues with industry representatives is a strong step in the right direction.

Americans: We Are Strengthened by Our Diverse Perspectives

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Dr. Roslyn Clark Artis, President, Florida Memorial University

Most Americans have been involved in, or heard, conversations about diversity. The topics swirling around the concepts of diversity are broad and deep. Diversity, demographically speaking, describes a range of variables employed to describe human beings—and if you attempt to list the distinct characteristics, you will probably omit a few descriptors.

Sometimes, unfortunately, we focus on the differences when reporting statistically on academic achievement, family earning, health, and so forth. Admittedly, we need to be informed about how our policies, tax dollars, and governmental interventions affect the majority of Americans and citizens with specific characteristics. Sometimes, however, segmenting our population into diverse groups can be utilized too peremptorily to imply hierarchical ranking. However, measuring some outcomes related to specific human variables can be helpful in promoting the attainment of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all—as proclaimed as self-evident in our Declaration of Independence.

Like many other Americans, my concept of diversity has also been expanding as I interact with persons who share different characteristics. I recall when I served in academic affairs at a regional institution that enrolled, made accommodations for, and graduated students with characteristics often referred to as physical disabilities, my personal definition of diversity expanded. What I learned from those students has changed my perspective on diversity and broadened my understanding of courage—for life.

At Florida Memorial University, I have, once again, thought about the concept of diversity. Even though Florida Memorial University is known as a Historically Black College or University, there is a great deal of diversity among students, faculty, and staff that enriches us all. The opportunity to work academically with such a diverse range of faculty encompassing  every descriptor possible is invigorating. Faculty bring perspectives and life experiences from 33 countries including America.  When an idea is introduced at a faculty meeting, for example, we are able to discuss it from experiences that faculty have had from vantage points outside of America, from different disciplines, from family worlds that encompass unique mixtures of world cultures from times chronically different, and from their experiences in a very diverse region of South Florida.

Similarly, in meetings with students it is easy to appreciate the mix of the numerous cultures. Students bring perspectives from many countries including Brazil, Haiti, Ivory Coast, Portugal, Paraguay, Senegal, Chile, Greece, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Jamaica, Colombia, and Nigeria.  In many respects, the diverse characteristics of students and faculty at Florida Memorial University under girds everything we do. Now, as we highlight the accomplishments of the faculty, identify our centers of excellence, and enhance our responsiveness to South Florida, we will move forth with a broader understanding of human experiences. This broader understanding will be an asset as we employ our diverse characteristics to prepare our students for a competitive, and very diverse global community.

Legacies of Courage and Love from the Silent Generation

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Joined by Trayvon’s family, (from left) Jahvaris Fulton,
Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, the legendary
Harry Belafonte is honored at Trayvon Martin’s
21st Birthday Celebration Banquet in Miami.
(Photo courtesy of Geri R. Vital, ©2016)

Recently, my husband and I had the pleasure of hearing Harry Belafonte, Jr. (who will soon celebrate his 90th birthday) enthrall an audience at the Trayvon Martin Foundation’s Fourth Annual remembrance dinner in Miami, Florida, sponsored by Florida Memorial University and other stakeholders. The Trayvon Martin Foundation is located on the campus of Florida Memorial University.

Even though Mr. Belafonte informed the audience that he had recently experienced a stroke and that he was on medication that affected his memory, his nearly 30 minute, extemporaneous speech was still a phenomenal gift to us. Looking around the ballroom, I noted that the audience was lifted a bit higher by his audacious courage, by how he promoted social equity throughout his life with his talents, his inspiring work, and by his still ardent call for us to commit to positive social action, as our daily guide.

Mr. Belafonte, and many of those he interacted with (such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, the Reverend Jessie Jackson and many others) are/were members of what is sometimes called the Silent Generation. When you look at the altruistic accomplishments, the courage, and the legacy of some members of this generation, they were anything but silent—they spoke eloquently through their deeds and built foundations for a stronger America.

However, each year we lose more of these trailblazers and, thus, we look to our college students and younger adults with hope that they will step forth and carry a torch of audacious hope to broaden and deepen our human connectivity through intellectual discourse and positive social action.

My husband and I feel fortunate to have been able to interact with some of the special humans in the Silent Generation such as the incomparable Dr. Maya Angelou, Pulitzer Prize poet Gwendolyn Brooks, humanitarian Harriet Fulbright, historian Dr. John Hope Franklin, activist and academic Angela Davis, Mayor Harold Washington, the Honorable Andrew Young, heroic Tuskegee Airmen, priest-activist Father George Clements, heavyweight champion and philanthropist Muhammad Ali, and many more inventors and innovators, teachers and scholars, scientists and statesmen.

Admittedly, many of members of the aforementioned and others in the Silent Generation lived controversial lives and colored outside of the lines. As time has demonstrated, these lines are temporary boundaries that continue to change with time, through intellectual realizations and the transcendence of the human spirit. And, of course, the Silent Generation Americans were only humans!

We have marveled that lives of courage, sacrifice, and concern for others seems to have transformed these mere humans into legends. Even as they are undoubtedly contemplating the conclusions of their earthly existences, these legends of the Silent Generation seem to stand tall, despite advanced age, and vigorously employ their lives’ wisdom to heighten awareness for today’s youth in order to inspire actions that will result in an even better America and more peaceful coexistence in our global community. They have shown us the power of lives lived with altruistic purposes, and now these stalwarts are demonstrating how to bow out with dignity and grace.

Listening to their life stories–replete with challenges, missteps, and victories–and seeing a world continuing to transform through their perspectives is a special gift to be held close to the heart and deeply treasured. Though these remarkable people who have illustrated the great potential of human lives might be a bit weathered by their journeys,  their actions still serve as a clarion call for us to shake off our complacency, focus a little less on consuming, look up from our hand-held devices, and take more active roles in advancing the progress towards broader social justice, greater fairness, and respect for all lives among our global neighbors.

Holding these treasures, and the inspiring life stories of many others, close to our hearts—We thank you!