Informational Interview with Dr. Evelyn Erenrich

DR. EEDr. Evelyn Erenrich serves as the Associate Dean at the School of Graduate Studies and Director of the Center for Graduate Recruitment, Retention, and Diversity (GR²aD) at Rutgers University. In her capacity as Associate Dean, she is responsible for promoting diversity and inclusion at Rutgers the from undergraduate to faculty levels. iJOBs blogger, Urmimala Basu, talks with Dr. Erenrich about development of her career in higher education administration.

  1. Let’s begin with your early career: where did you go to school for your undergraduate studies and what was your field?

I did my undergraduate work at Cornell University where I majored in Science Education. My plan was to teach high school biology and chemistry, and, at the time, I never considered the possibility of a PhD.

  1. Please tell us about your graduate career: where did you go to graduate school and what did you work on? What was your motivation behind going to graduate school?

A summer research experience between my junior and senior year was the catalyst that propelled me to graduate school. I was looking for a summer job the spring of my junior year and came across a posting for positions at Brookhaven National Laboratories. I was offered a spot despite my lack of research experience, probably because I had a 4.0 GPA. I was fortunate to be matched with the Chair of Biology, who was well-known for his work on the enzyme ribonuclease. This pivotal experience opened my eyes to the excitement of research, and I returned to college intent on going to graduate school. That decision meant I had to change my schedule from full-time student teaching to more advanced coursework. I still remember asking the Dean to allow me to substitute courses like Physical Chemistry for student teaching. He agreed, commenting that I was the first student to ask for special permission to get INTO P-Chem rather than to withdraw!

I remained at Cornell for my PhD, working in the laboratory of Dr. David Usher and studying the mechanism of ribonuclease A. So you can see, my summer research experience had a profound effect on both my pathway and my research direction.

  1. Please describe your current job at Rutgers as the Assistant Dean of The Centre for Graduate Recruitment, Retention and Diversity. What are your duties and how do you manage them?

As Associate Dean at the School of Graduate Studies and Director of the Center for Graduate Recruitment, Retention, and Diversity (GR²aD), I Iead efforts spanning the undergraduate to postdoctoral/faculty pathway. Our signature programs recruit graduate students from diverse backgrounds and develop initiatives to promote their success. Although much of our emphasis has been on broadening participation in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), we have recently extended our scope to social sciences and humanities. To achieve our objectives, we establish and maintain relationships with feeder schools, direct a summer research program for undergraduatesRiSE (Research Intensive Summer Experience) at Rutgers, and develop professional support mechanisms for graduate students. We participate in multi-institutional consortia to promote diversity in graduate education and postdoctoral training and to facilitate successful career transition. We provide support for the diversity, broadening participation, and broader impact components of faculty training and research grants.

  1. Please tell us your career trajectory: How did you transition to your current job?

After earning my PhD, I worked in industry developing enzyme-based analytical devices for process control, such as industrial fermentation. My group, although part of a large corporation, was run much like a start-up, and we had considerable autonomy and opportunities to present our work. After several promotions, I became more involved with management and commercial development and found the challenge of matching our technology with customer needs interesting. Eventually, though, having always wanted to teach, I returned to the academic arena as a member of the Chemistry and Chemical Biology Department at Rutgers. I directed the General Chemistry program and spearheaded curricular innovations. Disturbed by the high dropout rate from first-year science major courses, I developed a transitional program to help at-risk students succeed. Many of these students came from underserved high schools. In 2000, the Graduate School-New Brunswick joined an NSF (National Science Foundation) consortium to promote diversity in STEM graduate programs and develop models to promote degree completion and career transition. My experience at the undergraduate level was transferable to the graduate arena. I was offered the newly created dean position for Recruitment and Retention. My initial charge was to launch an undergraduate summer research program for 6 students, which grew into today’s RISE program hosting over 50 students per summer.

  1. Please elaborate on the various programs run by your office.

The School of Graduate Studies (SGS) values a diverse and inclusive student body as a fundamental element in our efforts towards excellence. We have a broad concept of diversity, seeking individuals who can contribute to the diversity of our classrooms and our intellectual community. To this end, SGS offers annual Diversity Fellowships to talented incoming students from a wide variety of backgrounds. We also disburse SUPER-Grad (Summer Undergraduate Pipeline to Excellence at Rutgers) Fellowships for top alumni of diversity-focused summer undergraduate research programs at Rutgers. We belong to multi-institutional consortia whose members partner to promote this goal. Among these is the Big Ten Academic Alliance, which has developed a variety of initiatives to recruit underrepresented groups to PhD programs and promote career success. Through the Big Ten’s NIH National Research Mentoring Grant, we sponsor professional development, grant writing, and mentorship training workshops.

  1. In your opinion what can we do to increase diversity in graduate studies? How active has Rutgers been over the years to increase diversity of its workforce? Can graduate students and post-docs contribute in any way in this regard?

Graduate students and postdocs have multiple opportunities to impact diversity and outreach programs. Examples include service as Rutgers Recruitment Ambassadors, near-peer mentors for undergraduates in programs such as RISE, and leaders in outreach initiatives such as a recent NSF INCLUDES grant with Columbia University. Students and postdocs can participate in Big Ten National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN) activities (above). We help students obtain travel awards to professional development conferences designed to promote success. These include the high-impact Compact for Faculty Diversity’s Institute on Teaching and Mentoring as well as the Big Ten NRMN conferences described above. Graduate students and postdocs plan and implement an annual spring Diversity and Inclusion Symposium.

  1. What were some of the major hindrances you face in your current job?

Not surprisingly, funding for students and programs is a perennial challenge. Since many of our initiatives benefit training grants and individual faculty grants, we partner with various programs and collaborate with faculty in many departments. We are also fortunate to have institutional commitment from the Chancellor and the Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs (SVPAA).

  1. What is your parting advice to graduate students interested in non-academic jobs in university setting? What qualities do you think will make one succeed in a job like yours?

Graduate students need to retain focus and think about their post-degree options. Mentoring does not always fall in your lap, and you may need to take the initiative to seek out mentors. I encourage students to identify mentors who can offer perspective not only on their scientific or scholarly progress, but on future opportunities. Cast a wide net, and get to know individuals in diverse fields and from diverse backgrounds. Serving as a near-peer mentor to undergraduates and new graduate students can also help you gain insight into your own goals.

Networking is important but not sufficient. A strong work ethic and demonstrated results are essential. Soft skills such as flexibility, teamwork, and strong communication are important, too.

There is no perfect career path or position just like there is no perfect person. Try not to let the bumps in the road deter or distract you. Graduate students often talk about how tough and stressful a time it is, but when you look back you may realize that school is one of the best times of your life. Keep your eye on the prize!

  1. What is your view of the iJOBS program running at Rutgers?

iJOBS provides resources to open your eyes to the myriad of opportunities out there. iJOBS can help you find tools to succeed, much as described in the previous question.


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