NIU conference encourages graduate students of color to pursue the professoriate

NIU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is “Turning Fellows into Faculty,” with a third annual conference drawing at least 56 doctoral students of color to campus this weekend.

The Preparing Future Faculty Conference will offer the recipients of the state’s Diversifying Higher Education Faculty in Illinois Fellowship (DFI) information about the professoriate as a career path and how to prepare for it. 

NIU is the only institution in the state offering this type of conference, which grows more successful every year as it strives to diversify faculty throughout Illinois’ universities. In 2015, the event drew 18 students from five universities. 

Janice Hamlet
Janice Hamlet

The 11 different universities represented this year is an “all-time high,” said Janice Hamlet, conference coordinator and director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

“Our goal is to educate the DFI fellows about the professoriate and to provide them with information they may not be getting from their own institutions,” said Hamlet, who suggested the initiative upon learning no real efforts existed to encourage DFI fellows to pursue tenure-track faculty positions.

“In order to create and maintain inclusive excellence, we need to create an environment that presents the varied backgrounds of the world we live in,” Hamlet said. “A diverse faculty positively affects student retention and success by exposing students to the richness of human experiences and perspectives, teaching styles and diversity learning environments.”

The DFI program annually provides competitive fellowship awards to more than 100 Illinois minority graduate students. The conference aims to give those fellows the insight they need to consider the professoriate.

“People are hearing about it,” Hamlet said. “All of these students are coming. They either want more information to make an informed decision or they want information about how to best prepare for the job market.”

Featuring NIU faculty and other higher education leaders as speakers, the Friday-Saturday, Feb. 15-16 conference will include workshop sessions on how to develop into a scholar, networking, preparing for the job talk, managing teaching, research and service, working at different types of institutions of higher learning, the professoriate and parenting, negotiating dual careers and negotiating the politics of race in the academy, among other topics. 

“We don’t paint a 100 percent rosy picture,” Hamlet said. “If they are of color, they will have challenges. We want them to be aware of those. I feel that when they leave, they will be very well equipped to enter the job market and to know what to expect.”

Among those speaking will be former DFI fellow Natalie Young, now an assistant professor in the College of Education at NIU, who will present “My Journey from DFI Fellow to Assistant Professor.” 

Natalie Young, assistant professor in the College of Education, will be a presenter at this year’s conference.

Keynote speaker Willetta Greene-Johnson of Loyola University, one of the first African-American women to complete a Ph.D. degree in theoretical physics and a speaker at NIU’s 2016 conference, will present “Art and Science: Closer Than You think: Renaissance Reboot.”

Along with her academic success, Greene-Johnson earned a Grammy Award for her 2004 song, “Saved.”

“Many times, particularly younger professors or doctoral students think that it’s all about being a professor or doctorate student, and they don’t have time to do anything else,” Hamlet said. “Willetta talks about basically lightening up and having a creative outlet.” 

Endorsed by the Illinois Board of Higher Education, the conference will include the participating universities of DePaul University, University of Illinois at Chicago, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Illinois State University, University of Chicago, Adler University, Governors State University, Aurora University, Eastern Illinois University, Northeastern University, Illinois State of Technology and NIU. 

“The Office of Academic Diversity, Equity and Inclusion sees this conference as an excellent opportunity for NIU to lead the way in preparing future faculty for the professoriate, especially at NIU,” said Vernese Edghill-Walden, NIU senior vice president for academic diversity and chief diversity officer. “Dr. Hamlet’s leadership for this conference has certainly contributed to its success.”

For information, contact Hamlet at 815-753-7954 or jhamlet@niu.edu or the CLAS office at 815-753-7953.

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