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PSE Workplace Climate Committee

Check back for updates on ongoing initiatives of the PSE Workplace Climate Committee (WCC).

PSE WCC Mission Statement

The Workplace Climate Committee (WCC) within the Department of Polymer Science and Engineering (PSE) promotes diversity, equity, and inclusion. We strive to translate community input from all levels into meaningful action by the WCC, department, or university administration. Furthermore, we organize department-wide events as opportunities to educate ourselves and equitably represent all voices. Given that PSE’s shared goal of innovative polymer research is better achieved in a safe, respectful and equitable workplace, WCC seeks to make PSE a welcoming home for all community members.

WCC promotes diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) within PSE. Our methods include i) turning community feedback into action, and ii) department-wide events. By promoting DEI, we also advance PSE’s common goal of innovative research.

Defined terms:

  • Diversity: the representation of different types of people (such as people of different races or cultures) in a group or organization.
  • Equity: distributing resources in proportion to each individual's needs, including needs of members of underrepresented groups.
  • Inclusion: the act or practice of including and accommodating people who have historically been excluded (because of their race, cultural identity, gender, sexuality, religion, or ability).

List of Current Membership
Graduate student representatives: Deborah Cassaro-Snyder (Chair), Demi Moed (Treasurer), Christian Steinmetz, Meredith Taghon, Kayla Koch, Ching Hsien (Justin) Ho
Postdoctoral representative: Elayne Thomas
Staff representatives: Weiguo Hu, Jessica Skrocki, and David Waldman
Faculty representatives: Greg Tew, Harry Bermudez, Todd Emrick (Co-chair)

Ongoing Projects and Efforts

Gender-Inclusive Restroom (GIR) Status
Though approved since November 13th of last year, the short-term GIR is still awaiting action by campus administration. We are sending persistent emails to keep this topic on the minds of the relevant deans and administrators.

Public Engagement (Christian, Elayne)
The public engagement team is working on updated designs for the WCC web page and is planning an additional diversity seminar for Friday, February 25, 2022.

Advancing Science and Engineering for Diverse Scholars (ASCENDS)
We are in the early stages of establishing a summer research program for undergraduate researchers from underrepresented communities. This program is based on the traditional REU model, with a competitive stipend, a travel allowance, and housing paid for by the ASCENDS program. Through ASCENDS, we hope to create a new pathway toward STEM PhDs for diverse academically gifted undergraduate students, while increasing the size and diversity of PSE’s annual recruitment pool. Our funding will in part be provided by industry sponsors, many of which recruit directly from PSE and other STEM departments at the University. Pending UMass summer research guidelines, we are on track to host several ASCENDS scholars for summer 2022.

PSE Post
The PSE Post is a quarterly newsletter compiled by students in the department aiming to bring the department community together. For each edition, the editors of the Post solicit contributions from PSE students, faculty, staff, and alumni. In so doing, we aim to highlight both the accomplishments and the humanity of our department. In addition to celebrating recent department publications and awards, we ask alumni to share their experiences and advice from their careers after graduation. We also serve as a platform for members of the Conte Community to share their recipes, science jokes, and adorable pets. Moreover, consistent with the larger goals of the WCC, the Post promotes diversity and dialogue by featuring articles about upcoming holidays and cultural events.

Lunch ‘n Learn
An internal seminar series for students and postdocs in the department, this program was stopped in March 2020 when we initially locked down. Our Lunch ‘n Learn team re-formatted the program for Zoom in time for spring conference season, during which students and postdocs gave excellent practice talks and received thorough community feedback. In addition, the new remote format has enabled us to host a gather.town room after each Lunch ‘n Learn as an informal department “coffee hour”. Finally, the Spring 2021 Lunch ‘n Learn presentations welcomed prospective PSE applicants, who attended the talks and subsequent gather.town meetings to provide face-to-face interaction with the department.

Past Projects and Efforts

2021 - January 6th: Winter 2021 PSE Post Publication

2020 - November 13th: Gender-Inclusive Restroom
An informal agreement with facilities, UMass administration, and the PSE department was reached to allow the men’s 4th floor restroom in our building to be temporarily converted to gender-inclusive by changing the sign to reflect gender-inclusivity and by adding a lock to the door. This is a short to medium-term solution that will provide a gender-inclusive restroom until we have sufficient resources (at least $30,000 according to an existing facilities estimate) to convert custodial closet A220 or A520 into a single-occupancy (and gender-inclusive) restroom. Once we have converted a custodial closet, the department will convert that 4th floor restroom back to a men’s room by removing the lock and replacing the original door sign.
October 29th: Open House
The PSE Department and Web Committee hosted an open house/department information session for undergraduate students interested in applying for a Polymer Science & Engineering Ph.D. at UMass. The event started with introductions to the department, then switched to a large gather.town meeting that allowed potential recruits to talk to current students/faculty/staff/postdocs about their experience here. The WCC helped advertise the event and were present during the gather.town meeting to talk to interested students. All attendees who choose to apply for our Ph.D. program will have their application fee waived.  
October 23rd: Diversity Seminar
We hosted Sanket Sabnis to share his presentation “LGBTQ+ in Stem,” a seminar addressing the barriers and challenges faced by queer scientists and engineers, and offering advice on effective allyship.
October 16th: Department Town Hall
We hosted a Town Hall-style meeting in which we summarized our current guidance to the department (listed below) and ongoing projects, and then split attendees into breakout rooms according to their role in the department (faculty, staff, postdocs, students), with a list of questions about what department actions would most benefit them and the department community as a whole. They were asked to document and share the key points arising from their conversation. The main takeaways were that we need: i) equitable representation in department membership, particularly with respect to race; ii) better support for our staff, particularly during the pandemic; iii) ways to connect to each other to sustain the department as a community; and iv) publicize our department more broadly to expand our recruiting pool.

Guidance to Department as of October 16th, 2020

  1. Apply for BIPOC-focused REU funding (NSF solicitation 19-582, final deadline Aug 25, 2021) or development of a similar program. A conversation with Clorox is currently in progress for seed funding.
  2. Remove the GRE requirement, application fees, and other inequitable admission barriers
  3. Add a page on the new website that is dedicated to efforts in and promotion of DEI in our community, including resources for URM students.
  4. Convert one multi-occupancy restroom into a single-occupancy, gender-inclusive restroom.
  5. Encourage faculty to send their students and postdocs to conferences organized by minority groups (NOBCChE, NSBE, SACNAS, AISES, SHPE, etc.).
  6. Continue to seek ways to increase DEI, including making PSE a home for existing minority students and doing a better job attracting new minority students.
  7. Hire women to fill faculty vacancies
  8. Hire BIPOC to fill faculty vacancies
  9. Hire LGBTQ+ scientists and engineers to fill faculty vacancies

October 1st: Fall 2020 PSE Post Publication
September 25th: DEI Task Force
A separate committee of students, faculty, staff, and postdocs (the DEI Task Force) within the department analyzed PSE outreach and recruitment data and presented their findings to the department. The WCC was in charge of broadcasting the event to the department and taking notes from the resulting discussion. Breaking down the application process into the three steps of application, offers, and acceptances, the DEI Task Force found that: i) 10% of domestic applicants are under-represented minorities; ii) among these, we make offers to 50%; and iii) 48% of URM students with offers accept. Accordingly, our efforts to increase domestic diversity have since aimed at increasing the number of URM applicants, as that is our greatest shortcoming in recruitment of diverse students.