Bridge to the Faculty program aims to increase opportunities for under-represented academics

Bridge to the Faculty Academics and UIC leaders gather at a recent B2F reception celebrating the program. Photo by Alonzo Zamarron.

Sabrin Rizk’s goal is to understand and improve access to educational services for children with autism through primary medical care at home. Dieff Vital’s work merges engineering and medicine to deliver smart technology to help treat patients. Marisol Becerra studies the intersection of poverty, race, and the environment in brownfield politics in Latino neighborhoods.

What these academics have in common is that they are part of the Bridge to the Faculty Scholars program aimed at increasing the future diversity of faculty at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The program, also known as B2F, was established in the summer of 2019 and welcomed the second cohort of fellows at the start of the fall semester 2021. The initiative aims to improve diversity by encouraging recruitment, retention and promotion of academics from different backgrounds and groups who have been historically under-represented in academia.

Bridge to the Faculty is coordinated by the Office of Diversity, Equity and Engagement. The program is designed to encourage academics’ research goals to support their success and potential transition to a tenure-track position. Currently, B2F has 34 academics in its ranks whose research spans a wide variety of disciplines and departments across the university.

At a recent in-person reception celebrating the program, UIC Chancellor Michael Amiridis said that the launch of the initiative at UIC with Amalia Pallares, Vice-Chancellor for Diversity, Equity and commitment, was one of the most important decisions he made at UIC and “is really close to my heart.

“The best way to move an institution forward… is to recruit new professors; new teachers are an investment for decades, ”said Amiridis. “What every university in the country is trying to do right now is try to achieve inclusive excellence, and that’s what this program brings to us – it brings inclusive excellence. “

Reception of 2021 scholarship recipients
Bridge to academics and faculty at the B2F 2021 reception. Photo by Alonzo Zamarron

Pallares said that in working on the development of B2F, his aim was to create a platform to bring academics new perspectives and research that would strengthen UIC’s role as a rigorous academic institution and also fulfill its mission. to be an open and diverse institution that is accessible to all. She stressed the importance for UIC colleges, departments and mentors to become a supportive community for academics.

“We want a faculty that will be representative of our community,” Pallares said. “My dream is that every student, no matter what department they are in, is exposed to the best under-represented and diverse faculty. What I love about this program is that we broaden our horizons.

According to Angela Walden, director of inclusion initiatives and director of the Bridge to the Faculty program, the structure of the program is unique. Departments wishing to host an academic attend an information workshop organized by the B2F team of the Diversity Office and must apply for a place in the program. The application of the program requires departments to think about the needs of the department and how the potential researcher will be supported. Departments should describe how the fellowship would be enriched by hosting a Bridge to the Faculty researcher, what their research and teaching responsibilities would involve, and they should provide a framework for researcher mentorship and a plan to support the researcher’s transition. towards a professorship within the department.

Pallares convenes a volunteer committee of senior professors, many of whom are from under-represented groups, to review applications from departments. Once the award-winning departments have been selected and notified, each of them begins the process of engaging in nationally competitive research. Walden and other members of the Bridge to the Faculty team work with departments to support the success of their researcher search.

“One of the things that we think is very special about this program is that we ask departments to plan how they are going to welcome and support their scholar a full year before the scholar actually arrives on campus,” Walden said. .

Once hired, researchers are mentored and supported in their work and research goals, which will benefit students and the university as a whole, Walden said. The program is designed as a two-year position and requires the completion of professional milestones each year.

“By increasing the diversity present in our faculty, we are also increasing the types of support that students can receive while they are here,” said Walden.

Sabrin Rizk headshot for the Bridge to the Faculty Scholars 2021
Sabrin Rizk. Photo: Elora Lee Hennessey

Among these hopeful researchers is Rizk, who received his doctorate in health sciences from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and is part of the occupational therapy department at UIC’s College of Applied Health Sciences. .

Rizk said the B2F platform would help him establish his scientific trajectory that combines academic productivity and his commitment to improving access to services for children with autism. It aims to “dream of a future research program, outline my professional horizon and imagine the next steps that will shape my research profile”.

Rizk added that she hopes “to pave the way for a pipeline of future under-represented occupational therapy career scientists who realize their own promising potential to make impactful scientific contributions to improve the health outcomes of those who will benefit from our. research “.

Head of Dieff Vital for Bridge to the Faculty 2021 Fellows.
Dieff Vital

As a Haitian immigrant, Vital’s dream began with tragedy when the devastating 2010 earthquake killed his older brother in the island nation. Having been raised with the belief that education was the only path to success, he immigrated to Florida, where he received his doctorate from Florida International University.

He is part of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at UIC College of Engineering, where his studies focus on textile-based microwave structures for medical applications. He credits the B2F program for giving him and other under-represented academics a chance to succeed.

“We’re underrepresented in academia, not because we’re not up to the task; it’s because we often run out of opportunities, ”said Vital.

Portrait of Marisol Becerra for Bridge to the Faculty scholarship recipients
Marisol Becerra. Photo: Denny Henry

For Becerra, B2F represents a homecoming. After growing up in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood, she earned her doctorate in environmental social science from Ohio State University. She is in her second year of the B2F program as a postdoctoral research associate in public administration and policy at the UIC College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs.

Becerra’s research and civic engagement, which included an internship at the White House in 2009, covers the under-explored intersection of poverty, race and environment behind policy decisions on brownfields, start to implementation. Growing up in neighborhoods whose populations have paid the price for environmental racism, she has focused on educating others about the issue.

“UIC is a great institution to research and teach on environmental issues because of the university’s history of strong community-based research and a diverse student body,” Becerra said.

At the reception, UIC provost Javier Reyes explained that when he started his college career, he was one of the only Latinos on the faculty. Even though he had been recruited, the necessary institutional support was lacking at the time. He said that Amiridis and Pallares have worked to create a cohort of B2F academics who not only can help each other but can also expect him to be campus-wide.

“It’s something that has resulted in a cohort… a cohort of administrators, faculty and deans who want to support you,” Reyes said. “We have created a new community for the university, a community that will support each other and invest in everyone’s success. “

Learn more about all B2F fellows.

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