Biological sciences faculty member Karen Sime is among 35 higher education professionals in the country selected for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities’ (AASCU) prestigious Emerging Leaders Program.

Working with Kristin Croyle, her nominator and dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Sime will use one of the program requirements to study and enhance a cause important to her and many on campus.

“SUNY Oswego is committed to promoting the success of STEM students from historically underrepresented groups,” Sime noted in her project proposal. “In the context of this broader institutional focus, through this project we hope to identify program-specific strengths that we can build on to support STEM students from historically underrepresented groups, as well as weaknesses and opportunities for improvement.”

This means evaluating student outcome data “in a much more detailed way,” Sime said, for those in the college’s STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) programs -- biology, chemistry, computer science, electrical and computer engineering, geology, math, meteorology, and physics.

Sime will explore how different demographic data correlate with success, and how the college can address any shortcomings. First-generation students, for example, might not have role models who help them prepare with the ways college differs from high school, so finding ways to help them transition will benefit the students, the school and the field as a whole.

“Although our STEM departments typically track retention, they focus mainly on freshmen outcomes, and do not break their data down along categories of race, gender, economic disadvantage, etc.,” Sime noted. “Comparisons between departments are lacking as well.”

Sime realizes having a diverse cohort that can then serve as researchers, teachers, mentors and role models can open up the field to a larger talent pool to find opportunities and contribute.

“I’ve always been interested particularly in women in science, and I’ve even taught a course in it,” said Sime, who started teaching at Oswego in 2008. 

Having the opportunity to do this research is good timing, Sime said, with the Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program (CSTEP) relaunched on campus this academic year to support underrepresented students in primarily the STEM fields.

Since the next campuswide Grand Challenge initiative focuses on race, racism and social justice, this effort dovetails with that emphasis as well.

Program provides insight

AASCU created the leadership development program in 2015 to prepare early- to mid-career academic and administrative staff to advance to administrative roles with greater responsibility and oversight. 

In the initial virtual sessions, Sime has met a diverse range of participants in various stages of their careers and backgrounds, which has provided better insight into how other institutions and administrators work.

“It’s been pretty fun,” Sime said. “Coming toward the end of a pandemic year, it feels less isolating to meet so many interesting people from around the country. I’ve met a lot of enthusiastic people with some ideas in common.”

The 2021 Emerging Leaders Program takes place virtually with one faculty-led webinar per month from April to November 2021with smaller group sessions for reflection, networking and case studies.

“ELP provides our aspiring higher education leaders with the skills to make real change at their institutions, lead with accountability and strength, and prioritize the needs of the diverse student body they will serve,” said AASCU President Mildred García. “I congratulate this year’s class and am excited to see the meaningful projects they will implement at their institutions.”

The American Association of State Colleges and Universities is a Washington, D.C.-based higher education association of nearly 400 public colleges, universities, and systems whose members share a learning- and teaching-centered culture, a historic commitment to underserved student populations, and a dedication to research and creativity that advances their regions’ economic progress and cultural development.