New Directions for WISELI

The past year has been a time of exciting reflection and change for WISELI, a research center supporting faculty diversity and inclusion, housed in the College of Engineering.  New personnel, a new name, and plans for new initiatives and programming are all part of the changes that UW-Madison faculty, staff, postdocs, and students can expect to see.

In summer 2022, Dr. Erika Marín-Spiotta joined WISELI as a new co-Director, joining Dr. Amy Wendt in this role.  Dr. Marín-Spiotta is Professor of Geography and Lead PI of the ADVANCEGeo Partnership, an NSF-funded collaborative project to improve workplace climate conditions by developing bystander intervention education for department heads, chairs, faculty and grad students to appropriately respond to and prevent harassment, bullying and other exclusionary behaviors in research environments.  Dr. Marín-Spiotta looks forward to bringing some of the ADVANCEGeo work into WISELI’s portfolio.  Erika is also on the leadership team of the Mellon-funded Humanities Education for Anti-Racism Literacy in STEMM at UW-Madison, and is excited to think about how to integrate perspectives from HEAL into WISELI’s work.  

Joining Erika to update WISELI’s educational offerings is Dr. Dessie Clark.  Dr. Clark is WISELI’s new Director of Curriculum Development and Implementation.  She joins WISELI from the ADVANCE program at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Dessie brings a wealth of experience and expertise in social science and diversity research, including studying COVID-19 impacts on faculty well-being and productivity. WISELI is excited to have Dessie infuse WISELI’s curriculum with new ADVANCE work happening across the U.S.

To better reflect current and future directions of WISELI, the center recently changed its name to be more inclusive of all persons who are underrepresented and have been historically excluded from science and engineering.  Indeed, WISELI has worked on issues of inequities more broadly for many years, incorporating research on racial/ethnic bias and ableism into hiring workshops since 2004, and on discrimination against LGBTQ persons into the Breaking the Bias Habit workshops in 2010.  The name change also reflects WISELI’s desire to expand its work on gender inequities to be more inclusive of transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming persons. On February 16th, the University Academic Planning Council approved WISELI’s name change to “University of Wisconsin-Madison Inclusion in Science & Engineering Leadership Institute.”  The well-known acronym will remain the same, but the name will now acknowledge the much broader set of issues for all persons underrepresented in faculty and leadership in STEMM fields at UW-Madison.  

The name change had wide support across the campus.  Dean of the College of Letters & Science Eric Wilcots says, “My colleagues and I have often discussed our sense that the university benefits from WISELI’s work, and we commend WISELI for recognizing that just as the work has grown to support a wider vision of diversity, equity and inclusion in our faculty and academic leadership at UW-Madison, that growth should be reflected in the institute’s name.”  In the College of Engineering, where WISELI is housed, Dean Ian Robertson attests that “WISELI has for many years been promoting issues of faculty diversity more broadly—beyond women in STEM—to issues of gender diversity, racial/ethnic underrepresentation, LGBTQ+ people and people with disabilities, and to differences in messaging to faculty and staff. I noted in their 2021 Center Review report that the reviewers recommended a name change for WISELI, and as they embark on new endeavors with a new co-Director and new Director of Curriculum Development and Implementation, the new name for WISELI will help them be seen as an agent for change for an expansive vision of faculty inclusion, equity and diversity across campus.”

WISELI began in 2002 with an ADVANCE grant from the National Science Foundation.  Drs. Molly Carnes and Jo Handelsman were the principal investigators of the grant, and the co-Directors of WISELI.  At the time, WISELI was called the “Women in Science and Engineering Leadership Institute”, and its aim was to promote the participation and advancement of women in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine (STEMM) faculty and leadership at UW-Madison.  This name and mission was chosen due to the focus of the original NSF ADVANCE program. 

For the next twenty years, WISELI’s work became well-known on campus, and nationally.  Searching for Excellence & Diversity workshops for faculty hiring committees; Breaking the Bias Habit workshops for academic departments; the Study of Faculty Worklife climate survey for faculty; the Vilas Life Cycle Professorship program, and the Celebrating Women and Gender Diversity in Science & Engineering grant program were (and are) signature efforts.  Drs. Jennifer Sheridan and Eve Fine joined the WISELI staff in 2002, Dr. Amy Wendt replaced Jo Handelsman as co-director in 2007, and Christine Bell took over as Evaluation Director in 2019.

In 2022, WISELI celebrated our 20th anniversary.  This important milestone was celebrated with the announcement that WISELI was awarded the “NIH Prize for Enhancing Faculty Gender Diversity in Biomedical and Behavioral Science.”  The prize allowed WISELI to look back at accomplishments in the past, but 2022 brought opportunities for WISELI to look ahead as well.  WISELI co-Director and Professor of Medicine Dr. Molly Carnes retired in May 2022, and Distinguished Scientist and Director of Curriculum Development & Implementation Dr. Eve Fine retired in January 2023.  While an enormous loss of influential leaders, the infusion of new talent to WISELI is an exciting opportunity for the future.

We invite the UW-Madison community to watch WISELI’s webpage, as our set of offerings is updated over the coming years.  We will continue to provide the programming this campus relies on for faculty hiring committees, and implicit bias workshops, but we expect to offer more in the future. We are also excited to broaden our partnerships across campus and embark on new research to better serve our campus community.