UMass ADVANCE Celebrates Excellence in Faculty Mentorship and Equitable Collaboration

April 4, 2024
Cheryl Swanier
Pictured standing, Cheryl Swanier, Black Women United EPiC Award Recipient

UMass ADVANCE is delighted to announce the outstanding recipients of the 2024 ADVANCE Faculty Peer Mentor Awards and the Equitable Practices in Collaboration (EPiC) group winners. These esteemed individuals and groups were honored at the ADVANCE annual distinguished lecture featuring keynote speaker Dr. Danielle Holley, president of Mount Holyoke College.

In her address, President Holley called for unwavering leadership to deepen evidence-based strategies for advancing inclusive academic excellence. Dr. Holley emphasized that “Ecosystems are the healthiest when they offer a diversity of views and backgrounds. Communities are the same way, and communities that are made up of people from many different backgrounds whose members can give lots of different perspectives on the same problem, help define solutions. And that's what we want to be: communities that help find solutions, communities that lead.”

The ADVANCE Faculty Peer Mentor Awards for each college recognize the invaluable contributions of faculty members in mentoring and supporting their colleagues' professional development. The winners, selected from a competitive pool of nominees, were honored by Wilmore Webley, Senior Vice Provost for Equity & Inclusion, and Michael Malone, Interim Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs.

Additionally, the event marked a significant transition for UMass ADVANCE from a federally funded research project to a permanent faculty equity initiative embedded in the campus. UMass ADVANCE had been funded by a five-year (2018-2023) $3.1 million National Science Foundation ADVANCE Institutional Transformation grant, titled "Collaboration and Equity: The Resources, Relationships, and Recognition (R3) Model for Advancing Women and Underrepresented Faculty in Science and Engineering." With support from this grant, UMass ADVANCE has become a unit that provides knowledge-driven research and solutions for faculty equity. UMass ADVANCE has made substantial strides in providing our university and the greater higher education community with guidance and research in pursuit of intersectional gender equity goals.

ADVANCE research shows that faculty peer mentoring is key to greater inclusion and equity, and as such, UMass ADVANCE recognizes that vital work of mentoring colleagues. Let's applaud this year's winners:

Alexandra Meliou, Associate Chair of Faculty Development & Associate Professor, Manning College of Information and Computer Sciences

Dr. Meliou has organized formal and informal mentoring opportunities, including a semester-long study group for writing an NSF CAREER proposal, interwoven with weekly lunches junior faculty can learn about, discuss, and collect wisdom from senior faculty as well as their peers. Her nomination letters comment that Alexandra is “an insightful mentor” who is “always eager to help junior faculty find their way to success.” Her enthusiasm, encouragement, and organizational skills are highlighted by a comment that her “support is invaluable to junior faculty, who are often too overwhelmed by teaching and service duties to keep pace with grant writing.” This award recognizes Alexandra’s strong and critical work toward demystifying the challenges facing junior faculty and helping them along the path to success.

Alexandra Pope, Professor of Astronomy, College of Natural Sciences

Dr. Pope demonstrated extraordinary mentoring within the department, chairing a pre-tenure faculty member’s mentoring committee and leading positive transformation of the department’s climate for early career faculty. She modeled giving impactful feedback to students which has propagated to other faculty. She also led an inclusive faculty decision-making process for revising the department's graduate student journal club to focus on social responsibility. Her courageous leadership opened space for others to engage in actions to improve diversity, equity and inclusion. Her letters described her “giving freely of her time to help build careers ” and “I have learned countless handy organizational tips from her, and more importantly developed meaningful relationships with students … owing to her encouragement.” 

Torrey Trust, Associate Professor in the Department of Teacher Education and Curriculum Studies, College of Education

Nominators praised the commitment, inspiration, and generosity that Dr. Trust brings to mentoring. One noted: “As early as March 13, 2020, Torrey had created and shared ... a resource...that highlighted best practices in remote teaching, teaching diverse learners through an online setting, and working with students who had limited access to technology.”  Dr. Trust has continued to generate practical tools for teaching remotely and shared them widely to the College and through social media. She has also focused on the need for faculty to balance work with mental and physical health, particularly for women carrying the bulk of caregiving activities during the pandemic and beyond. Nominators also note: “She is a tireless cheerleader and supporter of her colleagues and is committed to building community” including organizing an Outdoor Activities group. Dr. Trust has shown sustained commitment to mentoring colleagues. 

Chaitra Gopalappa, Associate Professor, Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, College of Engineering

Dr. Gopalappa is being recognized for her exemplary dedication to inclusive mentoring of women in engineering and new faculty members, particularly in her home department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering. Her impact is evident through her personalized support and guidance to mentees, as highlighted by one nominee who noted, "Her clear communication and helpful insights... made choosing UMass Amherst as my new academic home an easy decision." Dr. Gopalappa's commitment to promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion is further demonstrated by her leadership in mutual mentoring initiatives aimed at building a supportive peer network for women faculty members. She also facilitates interdisciplinary collaboration and opportunities for professional growth, as evidenced by her involvement in the Artificial Intelligence institute and the consortium for health equity.

Rebecca Dingo, Professor of English, College of Humanities and Fine Arts

Dr. Dingo has mentored other faculty and students at multiple stages of their careers and through many venues, including professional societies, her journal editorship, her leadership of the UMass Writing Program, and her role at the UMass Office of Faculty Development. Equity and inclusion are woven throughout her distinctly feminist scholarship and leadership practices:  She has worked to make the process and practice of writing and publishing more transparent, to create equitable opportunities for early-career faculty of marginalized identities, and to generate meaningful mentorship and leadership networks for her peers, whom she addresses as humans in addition to academics. Or as one peer put it, “She offers a way to address the emotional labor of our work and does so with a fierce dedication to equity."

Bruce Skaggs, Professor, Isenberg School of Management

Dr. Skaggs' nomination noted that “His personal and professional support to new faculty members has helped create a cohesive and collaborative department. As a leader and mentor, he has been selfless in giving his time to others so that they may achieve their goals.” "Bruce has created an environment of peer support, inclusion, and belonging that has attracted excellent faculty to UMass.” Nominators also mention, “he’s served as a mentor for …senior faculty issues, including how to run various committees…. One reason why he is so effective as a mentor is that he has volunteered and served in so many roles.” In fact, he draws on his experience as chair to peer mentor chairs of other departments in the college.

Kalpana Poudel-Tandukar, Associate Professor, College of Nursing

Nominators laud the commitment that Professor Poudel-Tandukar brings to mentoring, including her use of active listening skills, empathy in sharing her own experiences, and a humility and willingness to learn in a true mutual mentoring relationship with fellow faculty.  One writer notes: “She is committed to creating and sustaining an inclusive space for all her mentees, especially those from minoritized backgrounds. She intentionally created space for us to share the challenges we face as international women of color navigating academia and doing community-engaged research.” Another writer wrote: “From the outset of our professional relationship, Dr. Poudel-Tandukar exhibited a deep understanding of the challenges faced by immigrant, Asian-female faculty members. …Amidst the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Poudel-Tandukar's support became invaluable...[providing] me with the necessary support and guidance to navigate these challenges successfully.”

Lauren McCarthy, Associate Professor of Legal Studies and Political Science, College of Social and Behavioral Sciences

Described as an amazing colleague who goes above and beyond in her mentoring of faculty, Professor McCarthy is praised for the active mentoring of faculty at all ranks in the department for many years. As Director of the Legal Studies Program, she worked with colleagues to develop detailed and individualized mentoring plans for new faculty hires.  Her commitment to peer mentoring has been particularly impactful in curricular development and coordination, specifically in leading the comprehensive reorganization of a foundational introductory legal studies course and mentoring the faculty newly teaching this course. Professor McCarthy is also valued for her peer mentorship and support to her colleagues in less formal ways that have fostered their success as faculty.

Eliza Frechette, Senior Lecturer II, Department of Kinesiology, School of Public Health and Health Sciences

As one nominator stated, Professor Frechette “effortlessly and tirelessly models effective communication, inclusion, and advocacy for all. She is a “natural” at peer mentoring, but that term might belie the fact that mentoring is something Eliza works on with great dedication.”  One nominator describes how the care and compassion with which Professor Frechette handled a delicate situation taught him how best to support and advocate for students. Another celebrates the care she took in walking a new faculty member through a difficult first semester, including navigating their first academic misconduct case, and forging mentorship networks to help her balance the demands of pre-tenure work and new motherhood. Professor Frechette’s peer mentoring has made a difference.

EPiC Awards

Additionally, UMass ADVANCE acknowledges two EPiC group winners for their exemplary equitable collaboration practices:

Bandwidth

As noted in their self-nomination, “Bandwidth’s equitable practices are evident in our collaborative approach to decision-making. Commissioning new music involves engaging with diverse voices, and we deliberately sought out composers who represent a variety of perspectives. We value the individual interests of each member, fostering a supportive environment where everyone's input is considered and honored.” They recognize the importance of addressing the borders and boundaries of the chamber music genre, exploring the relevance of both historical and contemporary repertoire. Moreover, they contemplate the role of musicians in the academy, extending beyond training the next generation to actively shaping the society they aspire to create.

Black Women United

Black Women United "works to increase the advancement of Black women faculty and … to create environments where diversity is encouraged and supported.” Black Women United provides “mentoring, networking and collaboration opportunities, education, training, resources, and professional support. Faculty participants identify barriers specific to their professional advancement. Faculty work to develop and pursue a strategic plan to address these obstacles and advance their careers.” Black Women United builds community across faculty, staff, and administrators and has “built a community of over 20 Black women on campus. The community now seeks out one another for support and collaboration, and to share resources and information.”

Please join us in congratulating all the winners for their exceptional contributions to mentorship and equitable collaboration, embodying the values of UMass Amherst. Let's continue to support and celebrate such endeavors across our academic community.