Recent diversity, equity programs in UT-Austin College of Pharmacy provide mentorship, resources

Samantha Greyson

The College of Pharmacy is using newly developed diversity, equity, accessibility and inclusion programs to empower faculty and students from underrepresented communities through mentorship and research opportunities.  

Skyller Walkes, assistant dean of diversity and inclusion for the College of Pharmacy, said she started recruiting talent this semester for the Build Our Own Talent, or BOOT, program as a pipeline for graduate students to become future faculty members.

“What we're doing is a pipeline initiative where we have targeted mentoring and coaching support with the intention of growing our own underrepresented minority faculty,” Walkes said. “We're doing that with the end goal of hiring them in the College of Pharmacy.”

BOOT will help foster an inclusive environment for graduate and doctoral students within the College of Pharmacy to help retain marginalized students and faculty, Walkes said. 
Out of the 40 tenured and tenure-track faculty in the College of Pharmacy, almost two-thirds, or 62.5%, are white, according to the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost website.

“There has historically been an underrepresentation of … minorities in STEM,” Walkes said. “We're not going to continue to wait for the pool to get bigger. We're doing our part.”

Faculty who choose to serve as mentors in the BOOT program are undergoing diversity modular training on topics such as allyship and the gender dynamics of mentorship, Walkes said. After a four month training from February to May, pharmacy faculty will mentor doctoral students and two graduate research assistants chosen to participate in the BOOT program.

The graduate research assistants will also engage in peer-to-peer mentorship with doctoral students, said John Richburg, associate dean for research and graduate studies in the College of Pharmacy.

“This is a fabulous opportunity for the development of the graduate students, as they will be trained to be mentors themselves — with mentoring skills being one of the most important attributes of a faculty member,” Richburg said. 
Scaffolding Success, a program Walkes created last semester, allows doctoral and undergraduate students to mentor K-12 students in the Austin Independent School District with a focus on STEM and Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills aligned curriculum.

“We're talking about our students who are typically under-resourced … but incredible, high potential, brilliant students,” Walkes said. “We essentially want them to feel that UT-Austin is not only attainable, but is also a part of the community that they can access.”
Samuel Poloyac, dean of the College of Pharmacy since last October, said in an email he is committed to expanding on the college's existing diversity efforts. 
“I share in the absolute commitment to UT being a welcoming and inclusive campus where every member of our community knows they belong, and where everyone is committed to the communities that we serve,” Poloyac said.