Provost’s office keeps expanding faculty development offerings


Two programs started this year add to the growing ways the provost’s office is reaching out to help develop and nurture faculty members.

“I would say that over the last several years we’ve just had the time and resources to really expand programming for faculty,” said Laurie Kirsch, vice provost for Faculty Affairs, Development and Diversity. “There have been a number of things that we’ve done over the last five years.”

The first cohort of the Institutional Mentoring Program Across a Community of Color (IMPACT) is finishing up a year of networking, mentoring and community building, while the Women in Academic Leadership (WIN-AL) had its first meeting this month.

These programs join the ACC Academic Leaders Network, which had its first five participants from Pitt this year; Executive Leadership Training (ELiTe) for chairs, associate deans and vice presidents; the Provost’s Diversity Institute for Faculty Development, which has been increasing its offerings since starting in spring 2016; and the monthly professional development workshops, which have run September through April since fall 2016.


Doris Rubio, associate vice provost for faculty, said she’s heard “nothing but praises across the board” about the mentoring program for early-career faculty of color since it kicked off in October.

One mentor told Rubio that “it’s wonderful to connect with people beyond your own school, because you realize you’re part of a bigger University.”

This is a sentiment echoed by some participating mentees, who said the program has particularly helped them connect with other faculty of color at Pitt.

“I feel like one of the things that this mentoring process has helped me to realize is that there’s more of us out there,” said Leon Valdes, assistant professor of business administration, who came to Pitt in 2017 and is from Chile. He said there are very few minority faculty in the business school, “So it’s nice to know that they exist.”

Sara Piva, an associate professor in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, said as a mentor it became clear that some Pitt schools don’t have much diversity and have not had many international faculty, and this means they don’t have basic knowledge of things such as visa status and “how that impacts the ability of a junior person to procure funding.”

Piva, a native of Brazil, said she was the first international faculty in her department when she came to Pitt nearly 20 years ago.

Christian Fernandez, assistant professor of pharmaceutical sciences, said he really appreciated that his mentor was not from his school, “because it gave me an outsider’s perspective on things that I should be prioritizing besides those things that I have going on a daily basis. … It’s more long term. … Then I would say that there’s this intangible, just by hearing more senior minority faculty members speak about what is it like to deal with micro-aggressions and things like imposter syndrome … gave me a sense of justification.”

In the program, mentors met with groups of around five mentees once a month from October through April. In January, some of the mentors were on a panel, “and they just talked about their own story, and they’re challenges and successes in academia. And honestly, when they were talking, you could hear a pin drop in the room,” Rubio said.

Darren Whitfield, assistant professor in the School of Social Work and Department of Psychiatry, said hearing the historical context of how inclusion and diversity has played out at Pitt has been useful to him.

“I think it was nice to hear senior faculty and a chair of a department say, ‘yeah, this is the experience, and this is how I deal with that, and how I’ve been able to be successful in spite of some of the issues,’ ” said Whitfield, who has been at Pitt since 2016.

To attract more minority faculty, Pitt needs to be “doing more active recruiting as opposed to passive recruiting,” said Fernandez, who came to Pitt in 2015. “So that would be building a network at annual meetings, meeting with students that are getting to the point where they’re going to transition, telling them that you’re interested in having them apply.”

Beyond connecting with other minority faculty, the participants said just being mentored by a more senior faculty member was beneficial. Valdes said his mentor helped him look at tracking his time and “seeing how I’m actually spending my time versus how I wish I were spending it.”

“I think the beauty of this program is to be able to tailor the meetings or the people that you’re bringing in for discussion, according to (each group’s) needs,” Piva said.

Some suggestions the mentees have for Pitt to promote diversity and inclusion include:

  • Reaching out to ethnic communities in Pittsburgh to connect them to minority faculty.

  • Providing resources and education to each of the departments and units about what does it mean to really be inclusive and diverse, and when you’re hiring and going through search processes, how to you insure you’re being inclusive. Having been on search committees, Whitfield said, that a candidate’s CV might not be as strong, but they’re a person of color. “And we know from research, that people of color in doctoral programs are often not as supported as their white counterparts, and they don’t have as many opportunities, so take all of those structural factors into account when we’re hiring and not just look at the numbers.”

  • Encouraging more programs like this, “because at our respective schools, the diversity is low, but having programs like this … really allows us to meet more minority faculty that we would not have met otherwise,” Fernandez said.

Rubio said they plan to recruit a new class for “IMPACT 2.0,” probably in the fall after they collect feedback from the first cohort and see what needs to stay and what needs to change.

WIN-AL for women faculty

The Women in Academic Leadership program is designed for mid-career female faculty members who are leaders or are aspiring to become leaders.

“The program recognizes that women often face unique challenges in their careers,” Kirsch said. “We wanted an opportunity to design a program that recognizes those challenges and gives women an opportunity to explore those … and really develop their own leadership capabilities.”

Faculty members from all parts of the University could self-nominate for the program, which kicked off with an event May 2. Each woman then did a 360 evaluation, with submissions from 12 direct reports, 12 colleagues and one supervisor.

“We’re using the leadership versatility index, which looks for where your strengths are as a leader,” Rubio said. “And then how do you balance those strengths?”

At the May 2 event, those reports were reviewed to help “the women understand where they are in terms of their leadership style, and how they can use that and how they can build a team around them to support them,” Rubio said.

The women will then be formed into “learning communities,” with five people each, and meet on a monthly basis to serve as peer mentors.

ACC Academic Leadership Development

This new program is geared toward faculty with some academic leadership experience and who aspire to additional leadership roles. Each school in the ACC can nominate five people to participate.

For the first cohort in 2018-19, Pitt sent five associate deans, who attended three-day programming sessions at three different ACC schools throughout the year. In the fall, Pitt will host a programming session for the next cohort.

In addition to the ACC seminars, Pitt asked the people it selected to participate in Executive Leadership Training to develop their leadership skills and become familiar with the challenges and opportunities the University faces, Kirsch said. The provost chose a project for them — generate ideas to strengthen Pitt’s program for dual-career hiring of a couple who are both in academia.

“They’ve been looking into this all this year, and they’ll make a presentation to the provost, probably in the next month or so,” Kirsch said.

The ELITE program was piloted during 2018–19, with plans to fully implement it in 2019-20. It then will be open to chairs, associate deans and vice presidents, not just those selected for the ACC-ALN program.

They will be sending out solicitations for the next class for the ACC-ALN in the new few weeks.

Other programs

  • The Provost’s Diversity Institute for Faculty Development will run through June 12. It offers full- or part-time faculty the opportunity to increase awareness about diversity and develop skills needed to teach in a diverse, multicultural environment.

  • Faculty development workshops on a variety of topics — from an overview of the promotion and tenure process to dealing with difficult situations — are held the first Tuesday of each month, September through April. Most of these sessions are live-streamed and recorded. Past presentations can be found here.

  • Pitt recently joined the National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity, which provides online career development and mentoring resources for faculty, post-docs and graduate students. Faculty can claim their free membership here.

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at or 412-648-4294.