Department Members Recognized for Commitment to Diversity

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18 January 2019

Four members of the Department of Chemistry were recently recognized for their commitment to creating an environment of mutual respect and diversity within the Eberly College of Science. Dr. Sheryl Dykstra, Dr. Raymond Schaak, Dr. Miriam Freedman, and Ms. Connie Smith were honored for their work at the Dean's Climate and Diversity Award ceremony. The award was created in 2009 to highlight members of the ECoS community who contribute to a climate of respect and inclusivity within the college. Each of the four honorees received a certificate in recognition of their hard work, which is part of the Chemistry Department’s ongoing efforts to build a welcoming environment for all faculty, staff, and students.  


Dr. Dykstra, who is an associate teaching professor, was nominated for the award for going above and beyond to create a positive and comfortable environment for students from all backgrounds. Although she holds students accountable for their academic progress within their courses, she is well known for the understanding and empathy she shows toward students who are facing unique challenges and for showing sensitivity to those who require special accommodations. As her nominator notes, “Her office is also inviting—always open to chat with staff, faculty or students… I really like that she displays the ‘Be Kind, Be Inclusive’ sticker in her office window...Something so small and simple (like this sticker) can speak volumes to those who are feel singled out, alone and even hurting.” 


Dr. Schaak, who is the DuPont Professor of Materials Chemistry, was nominated for his efforts in cultivating a diverse pool of applicants for faculty positions within the department. As the head of the faculty search committee, Dr. Schaak ensures that candidates are treated with respect and courtesy during interviews and visits; as his nominator wrote, “Ray has paved the way for positive climate and diversity in searches.” His hard work is not going unnoticed either. Some candidates have even written to thank him for making the recruitment process inclusive and welcoming.


Dr. Freedman was recognized for her work as the associate department head for climate and diversity. She also heads the departmental committee on climate and diversity, works with the colloquium committee to enhance gender and racial diversity, and is the department’s STRIDE representative. Dr. Freedman advocates tirelessly for greater diversity within the department by educating faculty members about implicit bias and working with the faculty search committee to vet applications to assure diversity.  Her nominator noted “Miriam has established a positive atmosphere for climate inclusivity with graduate students and postdocs within the department, as well as the faculty. We are very fortunate to have her leadership.”


Ms. Smith was recognized for her role in advocating for a positive climate for staff within the department. As lead research staff assistant, Ms. Smith oversees the three other research staff assistants, and is diligent in bringing climate issues that impact staff to the attention of the department head. As her nominator notes, “Connie is a leader in making clear climate issues with her research staff assistants. She also makes suggestions how we as faculty can better interact with and thus help retain our staff.” Ms. Smith’s efforts have helped to create an environment that is comfortable and welcoming for both faculty and staff.


Every day, faculty and staff in the department strive to create an inclusive atmosphere that promotes cooperation and tolerance. The efforts of dedicated department members like Dr. Dykstra, Dr. Schaak, Dr. Freedman, and Ms. Smith go a long way to ensuring that everyone can find an academic home within the Department of Chemistry.


You can learn more about the department’s commitment to diversity here.

Maria Landschoot

Communications Coordinator

Department of Chemistry

Penn State University


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