Bourns College of Engineering hiring initiative strengthens UCR’scommitment to diversity
By Richard Chang
Over the past decade, UC Riverside has been recognized as a leader among peer research institutions for welcoming and serving its diverse student body. Building on the campus’ commitment to provide an environment where students of all cultures can succeed, the Marlan and Rosemary Bourns College of Engineering (BCOE) launched a hiring initiative last year to recruit faculty candidates who would help advance the campus’ mission of diversit.
The Provost’s Diversity in Engineering Fellows program (PDEF), led by BCOE Interim Dean Sharon Walker, modified the faculty search process by repositioning the search committee’s review of a candidate’s diversity statement. These statements emphasize diverse perspectives and achievements and can help identify candidates who would contribute to the university’s strategic goal of serving as a national exemplar for diversity, inclusion, and community. Typically, the statements are not used during the vetting process except to decide between two finalists, but the PDEF program elevated the review of the statement to be in concert with the research record, ensuring qualified candidates with an exceptional commitment to diversity progressed in the search process.
The program is funded by a one-time $600,000 grant from the University of California Office of the President and is aimed at recruiting talent as they graduate with a doctorate. Accepted candidates are assured a spot on the faculty following a one-year fellowship that is paid by UC Riverside.
“This is a game-changer,” said Walker about the program. “Diversity is built into the fabric of UCR, and it is critical that we invest in faculty who can best support our growing student population.”
Walker, who completed her doctorate at Yale University, can speak from experience. Her work leading and organizing community STEM events for underrepresented groups prior to joining the UCR faculty in 2005 helped shape her approach to diversity.
“Universities and colleges often see diversity as a chart indicating the ethnicity or gender of their faculty cohort,” said Walker. “But PDEF is more than that. This program quantifies diversity by a faculty member’s experiences, exponentially increasing our service to our students, and providing new and different ways of approaching our research.”
The three successful candidates were each presented with a competitive hiring package, a detail that Walker explained shows the university is serious about the faculty member’s success. The vote of confidence by the hiring committee was fully backed by $200,000 in funds per incoming faculty member, which helps pay for the fellowship, conference fees, and lab equipment, above and beyond other startup costs.
Kandis Leslie Gilliard-AbdulAziz, 32, was one of the three candidates accepted into the PDEF program last year, having graduated with a doctorate from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2017. She described PDEF as a terrific opportunity, noting the promise of a faculty position and paid fellowship helped jumpstart her academic career.
“I worked in industry for five years before embarking on my path to academia,” said Gilliard-AbdulAziz. “The offer of a professorship really appealed to me, and I look forward to mentoring other students soon as they navigate their own academic journeys.”
Gilliard-AbdulAziz is completing a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and is expected to begin her UCR duties as an assistant professor of chemical and environmental engineering in the summer.
Cesunica Ivey, 29, also will arrive at UCR as an assistant professor of chemical and environmental engineering. Ivey, who completed a doctorate at the Georgia Institute of Technology in 2016, is taking advantage of PDEF’s financial resources to attend conferences before she arrives on campus.
Ivey praised the fellowship for allowing her to gain more experience before she starts, adding that the conferences she attended have allowed her to build relationships with colleagues in the field.
“This program is structured in such a way that someone like me can be prepped and primed for the position of assistant professor early in a career,” Ivey said. “It allows me to build a successful foundation.”
Since the first hiring cycle completed last year, the program has received national acclaim as a model for diversity. Academic units across the University of California system are working to incorporate diversity statements earlier in the search process.
Bourns College of Engineering was awarded the 2009 Claire Felbinger Award for Diversity by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET)
Visit engr.ucr.edu/pdef.html to learn more about the Provost’s Diversity in Engineering Fellows program.