Launched last year, the Advancing Future Faculty Diversity Postdoctoral Program welcomed its first cohort of six post-doctorates on campus this fall. The program is “A Lehigh for Everyone” initiative, which is a part of Lehigh’s Strategic Plan.
Five faculty members collaborated to write the proposal for the program in 2020 as part of the university’s call to make Lehigh an anti-racist university in the wake of the murder of George Floyd.
According to the Lehigh ADVANCE Center for Women in STEM Faculty, the program “seeks applications from outstanding scholars with diverse backgrounds and perspectives who plan to pursue a career in the professoriate.”
Joan Ramage, a member of the team that created the program, said one of the issues facing the university is that Lehigh’s faculty does not reflect the diversity of society at large or even the undergraduate and graduate students currently at Lehigh.
Larry Snyder, deputy provost for faculty affairs, said insufficient diversity in the academic setting is often a result of women and people of color often being met with a hostile work environment.
“This postdoc program is a way of helping Lehigh become more of a place where we welcome everyone from academia and from a diverse range of backgrounds,” Snyder said.
Ramage said the program is designed to be a positive professional opportunity and a supportive mentorship for scholars with diverse backgrounds and perspectives before having a faculty position.
According to the center, “Following a successful postdoctoral experience, each scholar may be considered for an assistant professor position in the relevant department at Lehigh (or is expected to apply for positions at other institutions).”
Yatma Diop, a College of Education postdoctoral scholar, said the transition from postgrad to a faculty position is challenging, especially for international students.
He said the program is great because it brings people from diverse cultural backgrounds to Lehigh and trains them so they are prepared for academic positions.
To get accepted into the program, scholars follow a similar interview process to that for a professor position, with one full day of interviews.
Ramage said the scholars are evaluated as though they were applying to be faculty members, which is more difficult than a typical postdoc review process.
But before post-doctorates can apply, departments must submit proposals that demonstrate their potential to grow into high-quality mentoring programs and their culture for retention and success.
Lee Her, a second language studies postdoctoral scholar, said she applied to the program because of the opportunity to be mentored by Sara Kangas, a special education professor.
“I really wanted to work with Sara Kangas because she has been very successful with getting the grants that I am interested in,” Her said. “That is something we are working on which is really big for my professional development goals.”
Rosemary Steup, a computer science and engineering scholar, said she has been treating the program as an internship for a professorship.
“I am getting a feel for what it would be like to be a professor at Lehigh,” Steup said.
She said she has the opportunity to practice teaching, do research, mentor Ph.D. students and write grants.
The scholars spend their first semester researching and teach one class in the spring.
Minjung Noh, a religion studies postdoctoral scholar, said the teaching load is lower in this postdoctoral program than in other programs, which gives her more time to write and work on her manuscript.
Noh said she brought the first chapter of her manuscript to a brown bag workshop, where she got feedback from the religion studies, Africana studies, and sociology and anthropology faculty.
“I am now integrating those comments into my revisions,” she said. “I am happy that I can melt into this nice community of scholars.”
She said she is excited to teach religion in a global context in the spring.
Diop, while working on his research, is creating a cultural diversity in human development research course for the spring semester.
He said the opportunities to research and teach will prepare him to be more competitive when he applies for assistant professorship positions.
Snyder said Lehigh is hopeful about the program and expects the first cohort of postdoctoral scholars will be successful in becoming faculty members at Lehigh.
Ramage said the goal of the program is for scholars to feel like they were a part of a welcoming and inclusive climate and are prepared for faculty positions, whether or not they stay at Lehigh.
“We commit to give them the opportunity to be considered for a faculty member,” Ramage said. “If they chose to go to another institution but had a positive experience at Lehigh, that is also a positive outcome.”
The next round of applications for the program opens Dec. 15.