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Portrait of Monica Ridgeway, Science Education '16.

Published May 28, 2019

Ridgeway addresses issues facing underrepresented students and faculty

UB alumna strives to add diversity in STEM education

After earning her PhD in curriculum, instruction and the science of learning from UB in 2016, Monica Ridgeway (Science Education ’16) wanted to focus on the educational disparities that create barriers to minorities. Ridgeway first noticed the obstacles minorities encountered when she was teaching middle school science. “The school I was teaching in was very ethically and richly diverse,” Ridgeway said. “However, the classes were not as the classes were being sorted out based on how well the students were performing on their English language and arts, and math assessments.”

Ridgeway is currently an Academic Pathways Postdoctoral Scholar at Vanderbilt University, which is a highly competitive chancellor’s postdoctoral research fellowship. She was selected for the Diversity and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education program, where she has a joint appointment between the Department of Teaching and Learning and the School of Engineering. Ridgeway strives to shine light on the issues facing underrepresented graduate students and faculty in engineering and computing disciplines.

She is also a member of the Explorations in Diversifying Engineering Faculty Initiative (EDEFI) at Vanderbilt University. EDEFI investigates the institutional, technical, social and cultural factors that affect decision making and career choices. The mission of EDEFI is to provide career satisfaction for engineering and computing doctoral students, candidates and postdoctoral researchers who have been marginalized by race and/or gender, as well as how those factors contribute to underrepresentation in engineering and computing faculty positions.

Diversity in STEM education is very important to Ridgeway as she considers herself a social justice scholar. She is currently working on two projects: analyzing the support of women engineering professors of color, and examining the unique experiences and perspectives of African American computing and engineering professors and students. “My objective for these two projects is to increase the mentoring of underrepresented students to ensure adequate representation for minority faculty,” Ridgeway said. “I have been awarded institutional funding through my fellowship to help me look at STEM postdoctoral researchers across race, gender and citizenship status.”

Ridgeway’s dissertation was awarded the Graduate School of Education Delbert Mullens Thinking Outside the Box Award in 2016, and was a finalist for the National Association for Research and Science Teaching Outstanding Doctoral Research Award in 2017. Beyond Ridgeway’s research, her service efforts are being recognized in shaping and cultivating racially-affirming approaches and spaces at Vanderbilt University. In 2018 and 2019, she received the Ujima Award for Outstanding Service and Leadership by the Organization of Black and Professional Students. In 2019, she was named a Distinguished Graduate and Professional Student Advocate and received the Msomi Award for Outstanding Scholarship by the Organization of Black and Professional Students. Ridgeway wants to serve as a role model for inter-school collaboration and inclusiveness, as she promotes an exchange of multicultural ideas and information.

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