Karis Boyd-Sinkler hopes to serve as a student advocate in the Pratt School of Engineering, working together with undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, staff and postdoctoral researchers to listen to their concerns and create change.
In a Jan. 13 email to the Pratt community, Ravi Bellamkonda, Vinik dean of the engineering school, announced that Boyd-Sinkler was appointed as Pratt’s new director of diversity, equity and inclusion following an “intensive nationwide search.” In the role, Boyd-Sinkler will work with the committee and Pratt’s four departments to advance diversity, equity, inclusion and community across the school, the email read.
Boyd-Sinkler said that her biggest goal starting out is “to understand what is Duke and what does Duke hope to be in the future.” She said that she is most excited to talk and listen to people of all different positions and leverage their voices and opinions to construct goals that make Duke “a better experience for everyone.”
She added that she hopes to merge the work of research and diversity as “one cohesive mechanism,” instead of trying to isolate the two.
“It’s really positioning diversity in all the efforts, and not just the silo mentality about diversity work being in its own little corner,” Boyd-Sinkler said. “How can we really embed diversity in everything we do between coursework, between workshops we hold, and just really try to be intentional about where we see diversity and inclusion for the larger Pratt School of Engineering and then Duke as a whole in the long run?”
According to Bellamkonda’s email, Boyd-Sinkler is currently a doctoral candidate in engineering education at Virginia Tech, and she conducts research on the interpersonal relationships of Black men in engineering as well as on engineering students from traditionally underserved and underrepresented populations.
Boyd-Sinkler also led mentoring, outreach and professional development programs for recruitment and retention of engineering students as a program assistant in Virginia Tech’s Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Diversity, the email read.
A Friday, Jan. 22 virtual town hall introduced Boyd-Sinkler to her new role and shared updates, goals and next steps for the new semester. The event was hosted by Pratt’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Community committee.
Nan Jokerst, Pratt associate dean for strategic initiatives and DEIC committee co-chair, emphasized during the town hall that Boyd-Sinkler is not only “one of us” in that she is educationally trained as an engineer, but she is also “tremendously knowledgeable in the areas that we really need…in Pratt.”
The DEIC committee, which is composed of faculty, staff and graduate and undergraduate students from each Pratt department, was formed during the fall 2020 semester and was involved in the selection and interview process for Boyd-Sinkler’s position.
Jokerst wrote in an email to The Chronicle that the committee began the search by ensuring a great pool of candidates.
“In addition to the more traditional method of posting the position in a number of job sites and advertising the position, we also took a more unusual step, and sent emails to leaders of diversity, equity, and inclusion at a large number of universities across the U.S., and asked them to forward our position description to people who they thought would be a good match for our position, and to nominate individuals who would be a good match,” Jokerst wrote.
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Jokerst wrote that the search committee then reviewed the applications and selected eight people for short interviews. After narrowing the field down to three candidates, the committee conducted full interviews, which included meetings with Pratt undergraduates, graduate students, faculty and administrators.
She added that everyone who interviewed the candidates provided a written evaluation with comments for each of the candidates, which the search committee then reviewed together. The committee then unanimously voted to make an offer to Boyd-Sinkler.
Boyd-Sinkler “is an absolutely great match for our position, and we are thrilled that she will be joining us in Pratt!” Jokerst wrote.
Boyd-Sinkler told The Chronicle that she enjoyed seeing how “meticulous” the committee was in making sure they chose the right person for the role. She added that she is excited that Pratt actually cares about diversity, equity and inclusion.
“It’s not just a checkbox of a position or a title,” she said.
Boyd-Sinkler will begin her position and start holding office hours for students in March.
At the end of the virtual meeting, the committee gave updates on its fall activities, including a review of Pratt’s existing diversity, equity and inclusion strategic plan, and outlined plans for the upcoming semester.
Jokerst said that the leadership in Pratt has also been involved in DEIC activities, including facilitating two leadership retreats. The school has also held several grassroots events and separate departments and units within Pratt have also been working on their own DEIC initiatives.
She added that this semester the committee will be increasing efforts on diverse recruiting across all groups—faculty, staff, postdoctoral researchers and students.
Jokerst said that before the COVID-19 pandemic began last year, some female faculty had planned on getting lunches with admitted female students to talk about the Pratt community.
“What we ended up doing was having four Zoom sessions with our admitted students, and the feedback from the students was tremendous,” Jokerst said. “They felt that Pratt was a particularly welcoming community to women and there was a commitment on the part of the faculty to be welcoming to female engineering students.”
This year, they will be expanding this program to include underrepresented minority students, Jokerst said.
The committee also hopes to create a flowchart with a list of resources and contact information so that everyone in Pratt can know their options for sharing concerns or seeking help. Jokerst said they plan to initiate more small group conversations and virtual social events for the Pratt community for the spring semester.
Bellamkonda added at the town hall that DEIC work “is not just of the DEIC community, but it is work for all of us to take on.”
“Part of the work is the recognition that this is real, and it impacts all of our lives in a real way—particularly those of us who are marginalized. Second is to increase representation in a serious way in every place that we can,” Bellamkonda said.
He noted that promoting diversity, equity and inclusion is one of his two highest priorities going into the new year, the other being the school’s finances.