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Exploring What Equity Means in Research at NC State

woman discussing a research poster

NC State’s inaugural Equity Research Symposium brought together faculty, staff and students to explore research that examines issues related to equity from a variety of perspectives and disciplines. The February event featured more than 85 presentations representing all of the university’s colleges and a keynote address from Raj Chetty, William A. Ackman Professor of Economics at Harvard University.

We spoke with Karen Hollebrands and Juliana Makuchi Nfah-Abbenyi, who led planning efforts alongside a committee composed of representatives from across the university. Hollebrands is the associate dean for research and innovation in the College of Education and Nfah-Abbenyi is the assistant dean for diversity in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

The Abstract: What are your initial reactions about the symposium?

Hollebrands: For many of us, the symposium was one of the first opportunities we had to see each other in person, and that by itself was exciting. Up until that point, the committee had met virtually, so it was great to all be together and see the event come to life. For me, it was the overall response that was so encouraging — you put something out there and you’re not sure if people will be interested.

The proposals and attendees far exceeded what we were hoping for, especially at a time when we were experiencing a spike in [COVID-19] cases with the omicron variant. While we had some people change the way they were attending from in person to virtual, we still had great participation overall.

Nfah-Abbenyi: It really exceeded our expectations. The fact that all colleges were represented was really impressive to me — it allowed for so many great conversations and so many wonderful interactions. And, the fact that so many students participated in the poster presentations was wonderful too. It was a long day overall, but well worth it.

TA: What were some of the highlights of the event?

Hollebrands: From the after-event survey and anecdotal follow-ups from attendees, we saw that people really seemed to like the panel discussion and keynote speaker. From a participation standpoint, it was really impressive that we had 88 abstracts submitted from many different disciplines. Seeing the way the campus community responded was really a highlight.

Nfah-Abbenyi: The keynote speaker really took time to personalize his talk with North Carolina-specific data. He made the data accessible — that way, attendees could get more specific information about what’s happening in their communities and neighborhoods. It was really interesting how he looked at inequities between and among different ages and races, really demonstrating that when there are disparities, different people are impacted in different ways. It gave us all much to think about.

TA: What were some things you learned from the inaugural event?

Nfah-Abbenyi: We heard from a number of attendees that they wanted more opportunities like this at the university, so that’s one thing. We learned that there’s a desire to expand equity-focused events and work on campus, which was encouraging. We’ve also known that there are so many people across campus doing equity work — one thing we’ve discussed is how we all can coordinate more for future opportunities.

Hollebrands: When we look at the abstracts we received, I think it gives a bigger picture of the work people are doing around equity and how it spans the university. The hope is that we can collaborate more. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to bring faculty together from different disciplines to think about potential courses or research projects we can pursue? It was just a great way to see how combined expertise can help us advance what’s happening around equity at the university. We also hope to increase attendance in future events. The current conditions of the pandemic made that challenging, but that’s certainly an area we hope to improve.

TA: What are your hopes for future university symposiums and research events focused on equity?

Hollebrands: When you step back and think about the university’s strategic plan, this symposium really speaks to several priorities. In particular, it helps move our culture forward around equity, diversity and belonging, and it advances us around research and scholarship. I look forward to seeing how the university envisions advancing the goal around equity, and whether this symposium and similar events could be a part of that.

Nfah-Abbenyi: Having equity and inclusion as a key component of the strategic plan is very encouraging. When we have that in the plan, it says a lot about who we are as a university. I think the symposium contributes strongly toward that goal, and we hope we can carry it forward into future years and expand.

To learn more about the inaugural Equity Research Symposium and watch virtual sessions and the keynote address, please click here.

Hollebrands and Nfah-Abbenyi want to thank the other members of the symposium planning committee for their support and participation. Members included:

  • Bryan Bell, associate professor, College of Design
  • Tom Birkland, associate dean for research and engagement, College of Humanities and Social Sciences
  • Angelitha Daniel, special advisor, DEI initiatives and director, College of Engineering
  • Genevieve Garland, assistant vice chancellor of research operations and communications
  • Alex Graves, director, Office of Diversity and Inclusion, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
  • Holly Hurlburt, assistant dean and director, Division of Academic and Student Affairs
  • Julie Ivy, professor, College of Education
  • Melvin (Jai) Jackson, assistant vice provost for faculty engagement, Office for Institutional Equity and Diversity
  • LaTisha Knight, assistant clinical professor, College of Veterinary Medicine
  • Laura Kroeger, research program manager, Office of Research and Innovation
  • Alicia Lecceardone, assistant dean for culture, talent and human resources, Wilson College of Textiles
  • Stacy Nelson, interim associate dean for diversity and inclusion, College of Natural Resources
  • Heather Patisaul, associate dean for research, College of Sciences
  • Sheri Schwab, vice provost for institutional equity and diversity
  • David Shafer, assistant dean for outreach and diversity, the Graduate School
  • Richard Warr, associate dean for faculty and research, Poole College of Management
  • Phil Westmoreland, professor, College of Engineering
  • Cranos Williams, Goodnight Distinguished Professor of Agricultural Analytics, College of Engineering

This post was originally published in NC State News.