Janet Richmond (left), Kathryn Nagy, and Brooke Shipley. Photo by Matthew Kaplan
At the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, department heads provide the oversight and vision for the kind of personal academic experience LAS students receive within the varied and rigorous programs we offer. Three women in particular are leading the way to advance opportunity in service of the natural sciences as department heads. Janet Richmond, head of the Department of Biological Sciences (BioS), Kathryn Nagy, head of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences (EaES), and Brooke Shipley, head of Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science (MSCS), provide academic and administrative leadership in these important natural science disciplines in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
Over the past few years, and in recognition of their scholarly work, service to the College, and innovative vision for increasing the trajectory of research and outstanding undergraduate and graduate education in their respective departments, LAS Dean Astrida Orle Tantillo has appointed these scholars to hold the chief leadership role in their departments for the College. As key players on the Dean’s academic leadership team, they each bring vision and strategic thinking to the table, identifying goals and establishing priorities as the university moves forward during challenging financial times.
All three department heads embrace their leadership roles within their departments and believe that part of their responsibility as prominent women in science fields is to mentor other women scholars and students. Successful role models can help counter negative stereotypes in traditionally male-dominated fields.
In service of the need for inclusive diversity that is held as a tenet of the College, Nagy, Richmond, and Shipley are involved in UIC WISEST (Women in Science and Engineering System Transformation), the faculty-focused program that grew out of the student-focused UIC WISE (Women in Science and Engineering) program, the goal of which is to increase the number of women students pursuing and graduating in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines, and to promote the recruitment, retention, and advancement of women in academic careers.
“Role modeling is critical for changing the way women are viewed and how they view themselves,” said Richmond, a neurobiologist who joined the BioS faculty in 2002 and was named head in 2014. “Being active with WISEST has been an eyeopener, reading the studies and learning how much unconscious bias continues to exist. As department heads we can help change that.”
In Professor Richmond’s department, she sees a particular importance in preparing all qualified and motivated individuals in the advanced study of biology. “We are the largest department, training future academics, researchers, and teachers, as well as being the finest undergraduate foundation for students looking toward a career in the health care industry,” said Richmond, who studies neuron signaling at the genetic and molecular level. “Our top priority is undergraduate curriculum reform. I want our students to get the best bang for their tuition buck and have the absolute best preparation to move to the next step in their academic and career paths.”
For Professor Nagy, mentorship was also a key component to her success, whether from a male or female scholar. A geochemist, Nagy was appointed head of EaES in 2012, after 10 years as a faculty member for LAS. “Now we can act as mentors to young women pursuing careers in science. As women, we can understand the special challenges they may face.”
Expanding one’s ability to adapt and think outside of the box is key for a vast field of study like earth and environmental sciences, continues Nagy. “By its nature, what we study is global because we examine the earth and the earth’s water and atmosphere, as well as other planets and planetary systems. So, our departmental challenge is encouraging the faculty to bring their interests and research ‘home’ and become more engaged in the urban setting and matters that relate, for instance, to human health,” said Nagy.
“This expansion of faculty research would speak directly to both the mission of the University and the passions of so many of the current generation of college students,” Nagy asserted. “I seek to transform our department into one that is concerned with both the global and the local.” Nagy herself studies mercury levels in the water supply.
“The MSCS department is very broad, with training in the areas of pure and applied mathematics, statistics, and mathematical computer science,” said Shipley, who is a leading researcher in algebraic topology. “We are a very strong research faculty with a highly-ranked graduate division and we will maintain and continue to grow those strengths while prioritizing curriculum reform at the undergraduate level.
“I hope by becoming leaders in the sciences, we will help to change the paradigms and increase the opportunities,” added Shipley, a pure mathematician who joined the MSCS faculty in 2003 and was appointed head in 2014.
Although their respective disciplines are very different from one another, Nagy, Richmond, and Shipley share some common priorities for their departments, including the commitment to strengthening the curriculum for undergraduate students and supporting faculty research. Investment in undergraduate education and support is of the utmost importance to each department head, and all three report being drawn to UIC by its urban mission and its commitment to providing students with an excellent education.
“I get the sense from our students that they really appreciate the very high level of education that they get at LAS,” said Richmond. “They really want to be here and value their education and know what a privilege it is to be here,” added Shipley. Nagy noted that part of why she chose to come to UIC was because of the undergraduate student population.
“When choosing Kathryn, Brooke, and Janet for their respective leadership positions, I felt absolutely confident that they would bring to their new roles all of the intelligence, creativity, and determination that made them standouts among the research and teaching faculty,” said Dean Tantillo. “Having experienced their energy and diligence as we face and meet the challenge of maintaining excellence with reduced resources, I know I made the correct choice. I look forward to their continued contributions as we forge ahead.”
To learn how to support science education at UIC, please contact Katherine Veach, Assistant Dean for Advancement, at 312.413.3469 or firstname.lastname@example.org.