2020 Graduate Diversity & Inclusion Awardees
The recipients of the 2020 Senior Faculty Champion Award are Professors Monica Geber and Jennifer Thaler.
Monica Geber, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and Director of Graduate Studies and Chair of the Graduate Admissions Committee, is recognized for her significant contributions for advancing positive change within EEB. She has trained everyone to emphasize the importance of diversity in making admissions decisions and has worked tirelessly to identify ways to increase the diversity of EEB’s graduate trainees. Her efforts focus on retention of incoming students, an often-overlooked aspect of building diversity. To this end, Professor Geber leads a core course for matriculating graduate students every semester, where she helps students understand the rules of the program, teaches them skills to write effective grant proposals, mentors them through the transition to graduate work and forges new students into a strong cohort. Professor Geber manages to be “on call” for students and helps them meet their challenges with positivity and sensitivity. Her leadership has been critical to fostering cohesiveness in her department through turbulent times that called for leadership, compassion, and swift response.
One of her graduate advisees states that Professor Geber was “the first and best person she sought for advice because her deep well of compassion and patience, paired with her keen intellect, made her an incredible mentor.” Other advisees highlight Professor Geber’s ability to give them free reign to pursue their own interests while supporting their progress every step of the way. Dr. Geber has also been described as a true advocate of graduate student mental health and as someone who is viewed by her students as an ally and advocate who provides them with safe space.
Professor Geber’s support of diversity also includes her active participation in Cornell’s Diversity Preview Weekend, her efforts to engage high school students in science through meaningful outreach in rural communities and strong advocacy for women in her field. One of her nominators states, “I consider Monica to be the single most important person in EEB’s graduate training efforts.”
Jennifer Thaler, Professor of Entomology, and Director of Graduate Studies is recognized for her unwavering commitment to diversity and inclusion, and graduate student mental health and well-being.
During her tenure as Director of Graduate Studies, Professor Thaler has implemented several initiatives aimed at promoting diversity, inclusion, and student wellness. She has been instrumental in advocating for more equitable admissions processes and was directly involved in removing the GRE requirement for the Entomology graduate program. Professor Thaler has also opened up new lines of communication to better serve the needs of current students in the program. This has resulted in the implementation of one-on-one meetings between students and her in role as DGS, social activities between faculty and students, and a redesign of the field’s professional development course. In addition to promoting policy changes like these, Professor Thaler also takes matters into her own hands through direct and personal support. When she learned that students were facing food insecurity, she set up and personally stocked a small food pantry in the department.
Professor Thaler has also made significant strides to promote the mental health and well-being of graduate students. When Entomology students started a mental health initiative, Professor Thaler helped them construct a student survey, and advocated for change to her fellow faculty members, such as the implementation of new policies and initiatives including a mental health awareness workshop. Even with these strides, she continues to advocate for expanded access, education, and training around graduate student mental health.
Bryan Danforth, Chair of the Department of Entomology, states, “I would say that Jennifer’s most significant impact has been through subtle changes in the culture of the graduate program. She has been a warm, supportive, nurturing mentor to our 36 graduate students. She has encouraged many faculty to rethink the student-faculty relationship for the benefit of both partners. Her work has helped students combat imposter syndrome, self-doubt, and feelings of isolation, which disproportionately affect first generation students and other underrepresented minorities. Her gentle, kind approach to graduate mentoring has trickled down to everyone in the Field of Entomology.”
Excerpted from an article published on the Cornell University Graduate School website.