Alumni Association board members discuss diversity in member applications

The Alumni Association discussed adapting its applications for potential board members to meet diversity and inclusion goals. Photo by Julia Sarcinelli

The Alumni Association board discussed diversity, a report on the STEM departments, commencement candidates and more at its meeting on Thursday, Jan. 19.

Claire Ramsbottom, immediate past president, asked for the board’s opinion on how they will consider nominations for open positions.

A vote to let any applicants know of the donation requirement of a board position also passed unanimously, along with approving new board member Kelly Costa Sardella.

Steven Whittemore, alumni relations officer, said Sardella received her bachelor’s degree in 1982, master’s degree in 2003 and is currently the principal at the Joseph L. Mulready Elementary School in Hudson.

Ramsbottom asked members, “How do we think about, when considering new board nominations, making sure that our board reflects the diversity of our students, of our institution?”

She added how, for example, no one currently on the board majored in STEM and changing “that might be a target as we recruit new board members.”

She said, “We made a commitment to make sure our board represents the diversity and inclusion goals of the institution, and we talked about creating some sort of self-report, which is how the institution does it. So for employees and students, they ask them to self-report in a number of areas.”

Sean Huddleston, chief officer of diversity, inclusion and community engagement, recommended Ramsbottom have members self-report their race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, religious/faith affiliation and veteran status and have applicants offer the same information in order to better represent the University and its inclusion goals.

Board member Nicole Chan, ’08, suggested adding these self-identifying questions, along with adding a question about whether the applicant would be comfortable making financial contributions at specific levels.

Eric Gustafson, executive director of the Office of Development and Alumni Relations, said during the discussion that “self-report” was the key word.

“Again, nobody is mandated or required to say anything. It’s what you choose to report,” he said.

Board member Susanne Conley,  former vice president of enrollment and student development, ’90, said, “I would really be in favor of monitoring diversity of the board, but not necessarily asking any applicants to the board for that sort of information but providing the opportunity to say, ‘Tell us something about yourself. … What might you bring to the board?’”

She added, “You don’t want to open yourself up to any thought of discrimination.”

Vice President Juan Rodriguez, ’78, said, “I think there are a limited number of categories, i.e. diversity, which would not reflect entirely all of the diversities of Framingham State.”

Board member Kathleen Shepherd, ’83, said, “I think the idea of making it optional makes a lot of sense,” and added she doesn’t “think it is necessary” to include stating ones faith or religious beliefs.

Board member Robin Welch, ’77, said he thinks the reporting should be “strictly voluntary,” and, “Since we’re looking for diversity of majors, we are also looking for diversity of members, and the only way we’re going to do that is at least put that question out there and for them to decide if they wish to or don’t want to.

I think that if we’ve gone to Sean and we asked him what we need to do, and he says, ‘This is what I need,’ we do that. We may decide we may want to adjust it, but for this first go around, this way we know we have the blessing of his department because this is what he asked us to do,” he said.

Margaret Carroll, dean of STEM, gave a presentation to the board on the status of the departments.

She reported the biology, chemistry, computer sciences and food and nutrition majors have “been rapidly growing” in terms of students enrolled. The math department has revised its program to allow student teachers to finish “in the most efficient way.”

She said IBM approached FSU, “the only one in New England,” to offer a mainframe computing minor in the computer science major taught by someone in the industry.

Carroll said the nursing program currently accepts only resident nurses (RNs) who have their associate’s.

She added the department has partnered with Newton-Wellesley Hospital to offer the program on the Newton-Wellesley campus. The first cohort of the collaboration will finish at the end of this semester, and the second will start in the fall.

Carroll said the earth science major was added to the physics department last year and 24 students have declared that major, “which is pretty exciting that it’s moving along.”

Carroll also spoke about the McAuliffe Center.

“They serve about 12,000 kids per year. Hundreds of teachers a year come through,” she said, adding the center partnered with MassCAN, or the Massachusetts Computing Attaining Network, which makes FSU one of three universities in Massachusetts to offer professional development for high school computer science teachers.

She said the John Stalker Institute doesn’t have enough visibility even though “it’s a huge center now.”

She added it offers training for food service professionals from K-12 school systems in Massachusetts as well as summer courses.

Carroll said, “We’re one of the few schools in the Commonwealth that train food service professionals.”

When asked by a board member what the STEM division has done to improve the success of minority students, Carroll said recently the administration has applied for an exclusive excellence grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

She said if FSU receives the grant, “It will be for helping faculty understand how to reach the current students that we have and how to make their classrooms more welcoming and inclusive, and hopefully improve the overall success of our students.”

Carroll said the department also applied for an S-STEM grant for scholarship money for “high achieving, low-income students.”

She added, “If they come in and they’re low-income … they’re trying to take classes that meet for 17-22 hours a week and they’re trying to work for 30 hours a week. There just aren’t enough hours in a day, so we are trying to address that in that way.”

The department also just finished the pilot program of STEM Scholars, which Carroll said is a way to identify students who are “at risk” based on their math abilities and there is a “higher percentage of underrepresented students, first-generation students and low-income students among that group.”

In other news, sophomore Adam Scanlon and junior Tonya Polanco were awarded the Framingham State Alumni Association Leadership Scholarship. They will each receive, $1,000, and Rodriguez, said the association encourage all students to apply.

“We’re looking to be representative of different departments. … The timeline was different this time around, and I think that resulted in a fewer number of applications than we’ve had in the past,” said Rodriguez.

Board member Diane Horton Finch, ’66, said she was “delighted” by the applications received.

“I really liked the fact that we had – even though it was a small number – an equivalent number for gender, but we also had a variety of majors, and I also loved the fact that there were externships or off-campus leadership that we looked at,” she said.

Whittemore, alumni relations officer, said the deadline for the application was Jan. 3 and that might have been a reason why there were fewer applicants. He said emails, table flyers, social media and more were used to promote the scholarship.

Board member Pamela Tiramani Edrehi, ’73, said the final three candidates have been chosen for the spring commencement ceremony and the top pick will be asked first.

“The process was wonderful,” she said. There were 54 total nominations and when polled, 64 students were interested in a inspirational speaker and 55  students were interested in a light-hearted, humorous speaker.

The graduate commencement speaker process will begin soon, Edrehi added.

Secretary Craig Stern, ’07, said the University has received more applications and accepted more students, “but enrollment after applications is down. … What we’re looking to do is develop a list of our own network to have members of the board help identify successful alums … to attend admission events and speak with students.”

He added this would include events for accepted students and events for the department the alums were in.

Gustafson reported the association awarded one emergency grant of $1,000 to a student who had a past-due balance from the fall semester and because of family emergencies would have had to leave school if the balance were not paid, which allowed her to raise the remaining balance and stay enrolled.

“That’s one of those stories where that’s what it’s all about. The Emergency Grant Fund is really about helping students like that, so it was great,” he said.

Gustafson said the University has raised $11.6 million for the Alumni Campaign and is only $400,000 away from its final goal of $12 million.

“There’s a lot of work to do, obviously, but the momentum is going on really well,” he said.

In other news:

The Entrepreneur Innovation Center has received a $25,000 grant from the commonwealth for community innovation.

FSU received a $47,000 EPIC grant from the commonwealth to support teacher training.

The Massachusetts Life Center received a $450,000 grant toward new work in the Hemenway project.

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