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Published on: Sep 22, 2021

An innovative program to help increase inclusion among underrepresented groups within STEM professions recently received a grant from Penn State’s Office of Educational Equity. The program, known as the Research Professionals Network, or ResearchPros, seeks to bridge communications and strengthen connections between IT and research staff through a community of practice model.

Project Director Ashley Stauffer, assistant director of the Evidence-to-Impact Collaborative’s (EIC) Administrative Data Accelerator, said the Penn State Community Survey results were instrumental in identifying a need for such a program within the University. Coupled with Stauffer’s development of the Research Professionals Network, there was an opportunity to assess underlying reasons for differences in sense of inclusion and belonging with support from the Equal Opportunity Planning Committee (EOPC) in the Office of Educational Equity.

Funding from the EOPC provides seed money for innovative pilot programs as well as existing initiatives that help create and support a climate of equity throughout Penn State and advance the University’s strategic plan.

“When I first started at Penn State seven years ago, I noticed opportunities for increased collaboration between research and IT staff,” said Stauffer. “I knew that there must be other STEM-related staff working on and managing complex research projects at the intersection of practice and technology. So, in my role with the EIC and in collaboration with the Office of the Associate CIO for Research, ResearchPros was founded to better connect those that are passionate about research and technology, foster collaboration, professionalize the process and practice of science, and leverage tools and technologies for managing the work of research.”

The February 2020 Penn State Community Survey shed light on some important needs within the community of STEM professionals and highlighted opportunities for growth, including ways to foster increased satisfaction with the campus experience and environment and in feelings of belonging among those who identify as being part of minoritized racial and ethnic groups.

The seed funding will establish a working group to develop and implement an equity-oriented organizational assessment. This assessment aims to understand some of the underlying issues contributing to poor experiences of inclusion and belonging among individuals who identify as racial and ethnic minorities within the STEM professions at Penn State.

Assessment results will contribute to culturally informed program development for rollout within the ResearchPros organization to enhance community.

“Under Ms. Stauffer’s leadership, the EIC’s goal is to reduce inequities and foster a vibrant and diverse community that works together to advance impactful science. These efforts are fundamental to Penn State’s scientific leadership,” said EIC Director Max Crowley about the project.

Support and encouragement for this project was provided by Susan McHale, former director of the Social Science Research Institute, and Jim Taylor, associate CIO for research at Penn State. For those interested in joining ResearchPros, visit the SharePoint site. For questions or more information, contact Ashley Stauffer or Gabrielle Provenzano, facilitators of the community.