Nilanjana Dasgupta named director of Faculty Equity and Inclusion for CNS

By Cecilia Prado

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University of Massachusetts psychologist Nilanjana Dasgupta was recently appointed the new leader of Faculty Equity and Inclusion for the College of Natural Sciences.

According to a University press release, Dasgupta was hired for the position due to her work involving the effect that implicit prejudice and stereotypes have on members of underprivileged groups while pursuing science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers.

She will lead efforts to increase the diversity and success rates of faculty members from underrepresented groups within the department, which, according to Dasgupta, will in turn help increase diversity and opportunities within the student body. She will also represent CNS in front of the Chancellor’s Faculty and Advisor for Diversity and Equity, according to the release.

In 2010, only 18 percent of scientists and engineers working in STEM fields were women, according to a 2013 report by the National Science Foundation. The number was even lower for other minority groups.

Dasgupta said this phenomenon can be prevented if institutions take certain measures, such as increasing faculty diversity and inclusion and helping to change the way minority groups are portrayed by the scientific community.

“Part of my job is to unveil what the barriers for women and minorities in STEM are, both in UMass and in general, to create solutions and also to find patterns (that) have worked in the past and continue doing them,” Dasgupta said.

She explained that the different life stages in which race and gender disparities in STEM occur are similar to a “leaking pipeline.” From childhood to adulthood, women and minorities often become discouraged if they feel they do not fit society’s stereotypical view of what a scientist should be.

“There are at least four stages where more women leave and where they come in from childhood to professional life, and they need to be targeted from different angles,” Dasgupta said.

As the new director of Faculty Equity and Inclusion for CNS, Dasgupta will conduct research on how to increase faculty diversity.

According to Dasgupta, this increase will create a domino effect that will also boost opportunities for undergraduates majoring in the sciences.

“The content, the style of teaching and who the professor is are all factors that have an impact on a student’s interest in science,” Dasgupta said.

If the STEM faculty is more diverse, the students will see their professors as more approachable and as achievable role models, she said.

The first thing on Dasgupta’s agenda is to develop a faculty survey that will provide UMass with institutional data in order to get a sense of where the answer may lie in creating the right programs to address these issues.

“CNS being the largest school at UMass, there is a lot of heterogeneity, and the solutions may vary within each department,” Dasgupta said. “As a scientist, my job is to base my strategies on systematic patterns rather than anecdotes.”

Stacy Tchouanguem, a junior microbiology major, said she believes Dasgupta’s work may increase opportunities for STEM students on campus.

“There are not a lot of women of color in my major. It’s harder to find scholarships if there isn’t an easy access to people that can guide you through the process,” Tchouanguem said. “During orientation they don’t tell you about all the resources helping women and women of color in the sciences.”

Cecilia Prado can be reached at [email protected]