By: JP Dundore-Arias, Denita Hadziabdic-Guerry and Ron Walcott

Featured article in the 2019 March issue of Phytopathology News (Volume 53, Number 3)

The Plant Science Research Network (PSRN) organized a strategic workshop to explore innovative ways of effectively broadening participation in the plant sciences and beyond.  The workshop took place on January 8-11, 2019, at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) campus, and brought together over 40 participants from across multiple plant science disciplines, personal backgrounds, and career stages, ranging from undergraduate students to senior university administrators.  As one of the founding scientific societies and organizations that comprise the PSRN, the American  Phytopathological Society was well represented at this workshop.  Denita Hadziabdic-Guerry (University of Tennessee), Ron Walcott (University of Georgia) and Chris Peritore-Galve (Cornell University) were amongst the enthusiastic and engaged pool of applicants that were carefully selected to participate in the program.  Moreover, JP Dundore-Arias (University of Minnesota) also participated in the workshop, and served as part of the Advisory Committee representing the APS Committee of Diversity and Equity.

This workshop, which was facilitated by Susan Stickley (Stratus, Inc), was designed as a highly interactive program to engage individuals to share their perspectives, experiences and expertise.  The program also included a variety of activities that motivated the group as a whole to propose significant, measurable, and potentially amplifying actions for advancing equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in plant sciences.  The workshop also included several highly motivated presenters that provided novel insights into language, approaches to support diverse plant science students and professionals, and alternative ways by which we could encourage an inclusive and diverse culture.  For example, Janell Thomas (Common Health Action) led a training session on cultural fluency and intersectionality.  Additionally, Shawn Hardnett (Founder, Statesmen College Preparatory Academy for Boys) and Ali Na (Communication Studies, University of Portland) served as provocateurs that persuaded the group to think “out-of-the-box” and envision new approaches to provide more inclusive and equitable plant science programs across the country.

The scenario building approach used in this workshop urged participants to stretch and broaden their thinking beyond conventional wisdom, challenging their own assumptions about EDI in plant sciences.  The participants also generated over a dozen pilot ideas, actions, and innovative recommendations for promoting scientific growth, public awareness and inclusivity in the plant science community.  These outcomes emphasized the need to apply the EDI lens in both educational and professional pathways, and to challenge current power and value structures that limit our ability to acknowledge different types of excellence in plant science research.  Moreover, the group recognized the importance to systematically promote early engagement to increase awareness of a broad range of career pathways and relevance of plant sciences disciplines.

To learn more about the PSRN and ways you to contribute to the workshop outcomes, join the PSRN on Plantae, and follow them on twitter (https://twitter.com/PlantSciResNet). To get involved, or for further information, contact the PSRN Executive Coordinator, Natalie Henkhaus (nhenkhaus@aspb.org), or the Broadening Participation Coordinator, Delanie Sickler (dbs266@cornell.edu).

The PSRN Inclusivity workshop was funded by the National Science Foundation and HHMI.

Quotes from participants:

- “The PSRN Inclusivity workshop made it clear to me that in order to attract and retain underrepresented groups to the Plant Sciences, we need to clearly communicate the relevance of our disciplines (including Plant Pathology) to their daily lives”. 

- “We must equip our plant science educators, at all levels, with the skills and tools to effectively mentor students that come from backgrounds that are different than ours”.