In an effort to advance diversity among faculty members at the University of Iowa, Provost Montserrat Fuentes is spearheading a new postdoctoral fellowship initiative to advance the campus Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Plan.
The fellowship is one of the first initiatives Fuentes took on after assuming her position in the summer of 2019. The fellowship would create a pipeline of postdoctoral candidates to apply for faculty positions at the UI, Fuentes said.
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“We need to diversify our faculty so we can better represent the student population that we proudly serve,” she said. “The pool is limited in recruitment efforts when it comes to faculty, so I wanted to increase the pool for the University of Iowa, but also for the academy in general.”
The fellowship opportunity, she said, will help create a clear path for postdoctoral scholars going into academia. Her hope is that the fellowship will increase the retention of young postdoctoral individuals in the academic community, Fuentes added.
One group that is integral for its success is faculty who will be involved in the fellowship’s focus on mentorship, she said.
“Faculty needs to be involved,” Fuentes said. “In conversations with other institutions with [similar programs], one of the main challenges found is if there isn’t a faculty line linked to it.”
While many Big Ten institutions have fellowships like this, the UI is doing something unique, Executive Vice Provost and Senior Associate Provost for Faculty Kevin Kregel wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan.
“What Iowa is doing that is uncommon is working to tie these postdoctoral fellowship positions into tenure-track faculty positions and making sure each fellow receives supportive mentorship,” he said. “During [this] process, we met with many stakeholders across campus — Faculty Senate, the deans, our Path Forward work groups, and the Graduate College — to receive their input…to develop a program with broad support that integrated well with our existing infrastructure.”
Any department on campus can apply in the spring when the application is due, Kregel said.
UI College of Law Dean Kevin Washburn intends to participate in the application process, saying that a similar diversity fellowship in the law school several years ago was ultimately cut because of a lack of funding.
“It was very successful,” he said. “There are diverse professors all over the country who participated in that program. Not all of the [fellows] stayed at the [UI], but it helped diversify the legal academy as a whole.”
The fellowship offers a unique opportunity to students, said UI Postdoctral Association President Kayly Lembke in an email to the DI.
“I find the new fellowships [are] a good first step to improving the training and retention of postdocs from traditionally underrepresented groups,” she said. “We hope the university continues to extend these ideas of training and retention to developing training opportunities available to all university postdocs.”
Washburn added that this fellowship is crucial in a modern world. It’s important for everyone at the UI to have a diverse experience on campus, he said.
“Diversity is a challenge because of the demographics of our state and the demographics of academia,” Washburn said. “At the law school, we have firms and corporate employers who are demanding more diversity. One way to lure more diverse students is to have a more diverse faculty, which is beneficial for all students regardless.”