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Someone you should know

NADOHE Spotlight on Bernie Santarsiero

The National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education interviewed our Grad College colleague and Director of Research Initiatives.

Why are you a member of NADOHE?

I became a member of NADOHE because we needed a representative from UIC to learn more about the experiences, best practices, and training carried out at other institutions focused on diversity, equity, inclusion, access, and social justice. I also felt that UIC, as both a R1 research and minority serving institution (AANAPISI and HSI), had a lot to share as we established our own DEI resources and programming. NADOHE provides an excellent opportunity to network with diversity professionals in higher education.

Can you discuss your work on the Conference Planning Committee?

I volunteered early on to be a moderator at the annual conference, and then joined the planning committee in 2018. I helped to review session proposals. Based on the success of creating the “Health Equity” track and the interest in learning more about the “Academic Diversity Officer (ADO),” we established a new track in 2021. Carolyn Craig and I serve as co-chairs of that sub-committee. ADOs work with campus CDOs to help address DEI issues in their own units, and prioritize and implement responses to the DEI needs of that unit.  ADOs also form a network within their institution where other units can deploy training or programming that have been developed. ADOs are often challenged by a lack of resources, so it is important to interact with and learn from their colleagues. We received a large number of session proposals for the ADO-track in 2023, so I look forward to a host of varied and interesting sessions in future conferences.

What kind of work have you done with marginalized communities in STEM?

I’ve been somewhat involved with supporting marginalized communities in STEM for decades. In high school, I was involved with a program called “Project Open Future,” where inner-city high school juniors, mostly Black, sought remedial instruction in Mathematics and Science during a 10-week summer program. They were all exceptionally bright students but came from schools where the instructional resources were extremely limited. Later, in college, I recorded chemistry textbooks for blind students. Each of these experiences demonstrated to me the potential to transform the educational process to promote greater access and equity. .

At UIC, we became a HSI several years ago but were not taking advantage of federal or foundation funding opportunities to develop programming for minoritized students in STEM or biomedical research. Also, as a research institution, we didn’t adequately assess programming efforts or disseminate the results of our work. I started to work with our Office of Diversity to write a series of grant proposals in 2015, and have helped to establish many new programs at UIC. As a result of these programs and promotion of innovative diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts across, UIC was recognized by NADOHE with the 4-year Institutional Excellence Award.

One effort that I’m especially proud of is the funding of an HSI-STEM grant proposal from the U.S. Department of Education to establish the L@s GANAS (Latin@s Gaining Access to Networks in Advancement of Science) program in collaboration with the Vice Provost of Undergraduate Affairs. As Co-PI, I work with an amazing group of colleagues to support hundreds of Latinx students with majors in biology, chemistry, biochemistry, and neuroscience. The program supports high school and 2-year community college students who wish to attend a 4-year college through the help of transition coaching, provides holistic support of entering students at UIC in their gateway STEM courses, and provides funding to place them in a research laboratory for four terms with a stipend. We have seen an improvement in their GPA, greater retention term-to-term and year-to-year, and higher graduation rates. The program was recognized in 2020 with the Insight Into Diversity “Inspiring Programs in STEM” Award.

I’ve also been involved with the establishment of a parallel program, DuSable Scholars, for Black and Native American students in STEM, our Bridges to Baccalaureate program that fosters the transition of students, predominantly Black, from Malcolm X Community College to UIC in their junior year to complete their studies and engage in research associated with the Cancer Center. I’m also Program Coordinator in the NIH-funded Portal to Biomedical Research Careers (PBRC) Postbaccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP) that runs out of the Graduate College. That program provides one year of support for a postbac student to engage in a full year of research and apply to a graduate school in some area of biomedical research.

What continues to fuel your passion for this work?

It is clear in business that diversity, equity, and inclusion are significant components to success for a company.  It has been demonstrated that working groups and committees are more productive, inciteful, and efficient when they are a diverse group of individuals. Likewise, as a scientist, we value critical thinking and are more successful with diverse teams focusing on a project or problem. As a first-generation Latino gay male, I have been exceptionally fortunate to pursue a life-long career in science and scientific research. I continue to be excited about developing programs at UIC that outreach and encourage students of color and other underrepresented minority (women, LGBTQ+, disabled) students to pursue careers in the STEM fields and biomedical research. Most recently, we established the Bridge to Faculty program at UIC, and I’ve been involved in helping to mentor a new generation of junior faculty in STEM and biomedical research.

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