CISE Well Represented at Diversity Conference


 

By: Daniel Vieth

For the past nine years, JMU has hosted an annual Conference on Diversity, highlighting the university’s commitment to being an inclusive place for all students and faculty. The College of Integrated Science and Engineering (CISE) shares this ambition, pushing to increase diversity within its departments. CISE was recognized for these efforts at this year’s conference, winning a number of awards. Award recipients included Computer Science (CS) professor Dr. Ramon Mata-Toledo, Dean’s Office Manager Ms. Lynda Chandler Capaccio, and the CISE Diversity Council.

As Chandler explained, the Conference on Diversity is “designed to foster awareness and appreciation of campus diversity issues through inclusion, shared experience discussions, and interpersonal development.” The conference consists of workshops and speakers focused on a variety of challenges faced by students, staff, and faculty within the JMU community. “We’re trying to bring new perspectives to help people share best practices and understand what’s going on campus,” said CISE Dean Dr. Bob Kolvoord. “It’s a university wide-event, and part of our campus commitment to being diverse and inclusive.”

Ramon Mata Toledo and Lyn Chandler CapaccioThe first diversity award was given to Mata-Toledo, who has been teaching in the CS program for the past 27 years. Because of his efforts supporting and mentoring students from a variety of backgrounds, Mata-Toledo was recognized as the faculty awardee for the Diversity Enhancement program. Mata-Toledo explained that student mentoring is important to him because of the difference he can make in a student’s life. “At the end of the day, I can say I did my best to help somebody,” said Mata-Toledo. “It was really nice seeing Mata-Toledo’s efforts recognized with an award,” added Kolvoord. “It’s overdue recognition for really good work that he’s done mentoring students.”

For her work advocating the Shenandoah Valley Autism Partnership (SVAP) and children with special needs, Chandler was recognized at the conference as the 2015 Woman of Distinction. “It’s difficult for me to find the words to describe how absolutely thrilled and honored I am to be the recipient,” she exclaimed. Chandler was inspired to join SVAP, a non-profit organization committed to improving the quality of life for individuals impacted by autism spectrum disorder, eight years ago after her son was diagnosed with Regressive Autism Spectrum Disorder. “Parents are often initially paralyzed by this diagnosis, but through the work of the SVAP, volunteers like me are able to help provide the necessary resources to begin piecing their lives back together,” explained Chandler.

Chandler is now a Board Member of SVAP, the chair of the organization’s Publicity Committee, and helps coordinate their annual 5k fundraiser, which raises over $20,000 each year for scholarships to local families in need. “The SVAP is a successful combination of professionals and families working together, and I’m proud to be a part of this group,” she added.

Finally, the CISE Diversity Council was awarded an Innovative Diversity Efforts Award (IDEA) Grant to continue their pilot project encouraging women and minority students to remain in STEM fields. “The challenge of getting women and minorities in STEM fields is a national one,” explained Associate Dean of CISE Dr. Jeffrey Tang. “However, we have a lot of faculty interested in addressing those issues, and we do a lot of outreach to K-12 schools.” This grant in particular goes towards the creation of academic fairs highlighting different options for all high school students who might be interested in STEM fields. “It’s like an academic job fair related to STEM fields, targeted at juniors when they’re getting ready to think about colleges,” continued Tang. If the pilot program proves to be successful at the local level, the Diversity Council eventually wants to expand to a regional level.

Through its faculty and staff members, and various programs, CISE strives to be a place where anybody can be successful and feel supported. “Our challenge is to think about what we do, make sure we’re doing everything we can to support our students, and to draw in students from a diverse array of backgrounds,” said Kolvoord. “We’ve made tremendous strides in the last five years, but JMU needs to look like the communities it serves, and we’re challenging ourselves to do better. We’re trying to walk the walk and not just talk the talk, and I think these various activities and our faculty members are emblematic of that goal.”

Published: Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Last Updated: Thursday, March 17, 2016

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