IMPACT seeks to build networks for faculty of color


The Provost’s Office is hoping to have an impact on new faculty of color with its new program, IMPACT — Institutional Mentoring Program Across a Community of Color.

At a kickoff to the program two days after the tragedy at Tree of Life Congregation in Squirrel Hill, Provost Ann Cudd said, “The timing of this launch could not be more bittersweet.

“In this sad week for our city, the forging of community and connection, of unity in pursuit of excellence through diversity could not be more important for our collective future.”

Doris Rubio, associate vice provost for faculty, is heading up the program, which is aimed at “faculty in the early years of their appointment to help them build a community and to network,” she said.

Rubio said she was inspired to start the program after talking to many people of color on campus, but particularly former Pitt Law Dean William M. “Chip” Carter Jr., who said he often went a few days without seeing another person of color.

“Our main goal is to be able to build their networks,” Rubio said. “Coming back to what Chip said. … We want people of color to feel there is a network they can connect with and a community.”

The 2018 Pitt Fact Book, published in November 2017, said there were 1,183 faculty members, or 27 percent, who identified as non-white.

Deans were asked to nominate faculty who were in their first three years. There were about 30 people chosen to participate in this first session, which will include monthly meetings for groups of four or five faculty of color with a more senior faculty member, “to talk about anything that is relevant — from I’m having trouble with a student to I don’t understand the bus system,” Rubio said.

“We are delighted to be offering the inaugural IMPACT program this academic year,” said Laurie Kirsch, vice provost for Faculty Affairs, Development and Diversity. “Across the University of Pittsburgh, there are many accomplished faculty of color, and through the IMPACT program, faculty who are earlier in their careers will have an opportunity to learn from their experiences and expertise.” 

Networks matter

The program kicked off Oct. 29 with a gathering of all the mentors and mentees and other interested parties. The attendees included mostly black faculty members, along with some Asians and Hispanics, causing keynote speaker Kathy Humphrey, senior vice chancellor for community engagement, to remark, “I have rarely ever seen a room like this at Pitt, but I am grateful that you are here, and I want to make sure that you all stay here.”

Humphrey focused her talk on how creating networks has helped her advance and why they are important to everyone.

“Other people help make you a star, because they're able to take what you do and tell somebody else about it. And if we underestimate the power of having that relationship and what that relationship turns into from that relationship to another relationships, we never really gain all that we want to gain staying in our cubicle, doing our thing, being great and wonderful in our square, because that's as far as it can go in our square.”

Her definition of networks is “the combination of productive relationships both personally and professionally. They are not always just about your profession. Because oftentimes your personal life will bleed into your professional life. And those two combined together have the possibility of helping you create a stronger network.”

Humphrey outlined five keys to building good networks.

  1. You need to get out of your comfort zone and “connect to people who are not like you,” Humphrey said. “It's really difficult, especially when there are people of color, we tend to gravitate to them because we believe they understand our experience. … it happens in all cultures.” She pointed out there are thousands of opportunities at Pitt to make connections — “There are lectures, there are activities, … there are reception after reception after reception. And each one of those receptions is not just for you to eat cookies. Those receptions are about you … trying to find a connection to make a difference in the places where you stand. Because the ultimate goal of the network is to make a difference.”
  2. It’s not about friendship, it’s about strategic relationships. “It's about what's win-win. It's not about friendship, it's about a connection that helps me and the other individual or the other system be productive.”
  3. Take on leadership roles. Humphrey encouraged the group to get involved with local and national organizations, which can lead to more connections and more advancement.
  4. Your networks are never complete, they need to be renewed and re-energized as your position changes.
  5. You need to know when to disconnect from a network. “If that network is not helping you to make a difference in the lives of the people around you, not helping you make a difference with your research, make a difference in the classroom, or make a difference at home, then that network is not working and you need to use that energy to connect to new network.”

Going forward

Rubio and her team reached out to specific people to serve as mentors and tried to match people with senior faculty outside their department.

“We would like to have as diverse a group as possible,” she said. “If I’m in a small department and there’s another faculty of color, I will probably already know that person.”

The mentors will get some guidelines and training throughout the year, and prompts will be sent out to stimulate conversation, which they can use if they want.

In January, there will be another large meeting, where a panel will discuss their career successes. Participants are invited to bring other Pitt faculty and faculty candidates of diverse backgrounds to see what Pitt is doing for faculty of color.

The program will conclude with a reception in May. Any faculty member interested in participating in a future IMPACT group should contact their department or division chairs, deans or campus presidents.

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