Faculty Chemistry Pays Off at Georgia Gwinnett College - Higher Education
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Faculty Chemistry Pays Off at Georgia Gwinnett College

by C. Douglas Johnson, David Pursell and Patrice Bell

Can you imagine a new state college having a junior faculty member chairing an open rank chemistry search committee? This occurred at a new college, Georgia Gwinnett College (GGC), which is within the university system of Georgia.

Dr. C. Douglas Johnson

GGC was established in 2006 with 13 charter faculty and 120 students, and has now grown to 458 full-time faculty, 240 adjunct faculty and well over 11,000 students. The nine searches for full-time chemistry faculty have resulted in a diverse group of colleagues.

Students tend to look to faculty as role models. And it is greatly encouraging for a student to identify with the person in authority in the classroom. The accompanying graph shows that the statistics of gender, race and ethnicity of the faculty at GGC actually reflects the student population it serves.

Experts say faculty diversity and inclusion within STEM is attainable through two approaches: top-down and bottom-up.

The top-down approach epitomizes most chemistry departments across the country in which the chairs — sometimes with the help of diversity officers, committees and/or teams — are working to change the culture, policies and practices of the existing department in order to increase diversity.

Dr. David Pursell

The bottom-up approach focuses on encouraging minorities to pursue chemistry through primary school exposure to training and mentoring programs so that students will pursue careers in chemistry academe.

The chemistry faculty at GGC used a top-down approach to achieve a cooperative working team. The primary goal, however, was not to increase diversity, per se, but to develop a functional working team that was inclusive and collaborative.

Several factors contributed to what happened at GGC. The chemistry faculty chair was a junior faculty member (owing to the age of the school) who led searches that resulted in multiple hires in the same year. The searches were open to all ranks (instructors as well as assistant, associate and full professors) and the advertisement included language not only describing broadly-defined chemistry professionals specializing in traditional areas but also engineers, environmentalists, toxicologists and chemical educators. The hiring committee embraced non-traditional career paths and expanded its network beyond prestigious institutions.

The strategy to mentor and retain faculty after the hiring process at GGC has been developed over the last decade. It is essential to provide ongoing professional development to faculty members at all career levels through mentoring, collaborations and training in new pedagogical methods and technologies. Active mentoring of adjunct faculty has also been implemented so that they become competitive for full-time positions.

Dr. Patrice Bell

The initial college leadership — namely, the charter president, the provost and the dean — were retired Army officers. Their collective experience in the Army allowed them to recognize the significant value of diversity and inclusivity to organizational effectiveness and mission accomplishment. They brought this emphasis to the college. This view of racial and ethnic equity continues to guide the GGC culture and explains the unique composition of GGC’s chemistry faculty.

The motivation to hire faculty was to identify those who would best fit with the GGC culture regardless of ethnicity, race, gender or sub-discipline. Additionally, a military framework, which helped guide the culture of the institution, facilitated hiring of competent contributors who subscribe to the school’s mission.

In fact, research on this topic has also resulted in other potential strategies to solve diversity issues. There was a realization that change can occur through open dialogue among chairs, social scientists and representatives of diverse communities. More specifically, the GGC chemistry department has fostered an equitable, respectful environment that other disciplines use as a model for collegiality, diversity and productivity.

Dr. Patrice Bell is an associate professor of chemistry and Dr. David Pursell is a professor of chemistry in the School of Science and Technology at Georgia Gwinnett College (GGC), Lawrenceville, Georgia. Dr. C. Douglas Johnson is a professor of management in the School of Business at GGC.

  • This story also appears in the July 27, 2017 print edition of Diverse.
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