Buju Dasgupta and students.

Putting STEM to Work for Social Justice

As professor of psychology and director of UMass Amherst's Institute of Diversity Sciences, Nilanjana Dasgupta is focused on solving real-world social challenges through STEM.

When Nilanjana "Buju" Dasgupta came to the United States as an international student, she experienced for the first time what it felt like to be a person with little privilege. Seeing how this affected her own educational experience, she became interested in pursuing a career in science to better understand how social environments influence individual psychology and behavior.

Nilanjana Dasgupta
Nilanjana "Buju" Dasgupta.

Today, Dasgupta is a professor of psychology in UMass Amherst's Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, where she is principal investigator in the Implicit Social Cognition Lab. She is also founding director of the Institute of Diversity Sciences (IDS), a community that brings together researchers from across UMass Amherst and the Five Colleges, as well as Massachusetts educators from K-12 and community colleges, business leaders, and practitioners to pursue multidisciplinary research to address social problems that create or magnify inequities.

Dasgupta was inspired to found IDS after learning of the many UMass faculty and graduate students in different disciplines conducting research on topics around diversity, disparity, equity, and opportunity. But often these individuals didn't know each other. "There was a real strong need to bring it all together," she said.

Buju Dasgupta and students.

In her own research, Dasgupta focuses on using social and behavioral science to develop real-world solutions and interventions. For example, she partnered with other faculty and advising staff in the College of Natural Sciences to design a first-year living-learning community, track the progress of first-generation college students in the life sciences, and rigorously test the success of the program.

"The more we can use our scientific [and technological] innovations... and connect them to solve problems in the world from the get-go, rather than waiting for others to take those innovations and run the relay race to the next lap...If we can combine forces and run the race together, I think we can solve bigger problems faster," she said.

This story was originally published in March 2022.