UNT biology professor takes initiatives for inclusivity in research

Article Originally Published by Maria Lawson on North Texas Daily

Diversity and inclusion has always been valued by Dr. Pamela Padilla, UNT associate vice president of research and professor in biological sciences. During her 18 years working at UNT, she has advocated for the student body in multiple capacities to create a more inclusive campus.

“Inclusion, I think, is the foundation for creativity and discovery, which is something that’s important for science and research — that’s the foundation of my mindset,” Padilla said. “I’ve done everything, [including] working with student groups that are involved with that same concept.”

Padilla is a volunteer member of the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in STEM (SACNAS) and will be serving as the president of the organization for the upcoming year.

“[SACNAS] is an almost 50-year-old organization in the country that is a very inclusive organization [with] the mission to increase diversity in and within all of the STEM fields,” Padilla said. “I’ve been involved with that organization for 25 years and have been on the board of directors and am the current president-elect.”

Aside from her work with SACNAS, Padilla is also involved with the women’s faculty network and has recruited students from national organizations and written grants for diversity and inclusion in UNT Ph.D. programs. Now that UNT is a Hispanic-Serving Institution, the Provost created a committee to advocate for minority students, which Padilla also is on.

Padilla has worked to implement how to reach and bring in a diverse group of research students for programs.

“I think that discovery and creativity among groups is enhanced if you have a diverse group of individuals,” Padilla said. “If you have people who all look the same [and] have all the same experiences in the past, you get a lot of the same answers — you don’t necessarily get something that’s different. When you start putting very different individuals together in a room to solve a problem, that’s the way to truly solve something.”

Padilla said her efforts are important to changing society and advocating for a future with a more inclusive population.

“We have some huge issues in the world [and] in the country, and they’re not going to get solved if we keep doing the same thing with the same mindset,” Padilla said.

Former students of Padilla said she made her passion for encouraging diversity evident through her efforts.

“[Padilla] has always shown an interest in diversity in STEM, from ethnicity to women in STEM, and has encouraged her students from various backgrounds and given them opportunities they may not have had otherwise,” said Skylar King, UNT Ph.D. graduate and University of Missouri postdoctoral fellow. “I know that this is one of her passions. Dr. Padilla has made contributions to UNT inclusivity [and] has done research on the student population to determine the needs of students at UNT.”

Padilla’s colleagues said she provides opportunities to promote diversity among students.

“[Padilla] continually provides outstanding inclusive leadership and mentorship to a diverse group of researchers,” professor and Plano resident G. Andrés Cisneros said. “[She] produces world-class research and always aims to include everyone.”

Throughout her time as an individual in STEM, Padilla said she has seen inclusivity in research programs become more widespread.

“I think that [the] world that I’m in right now, as a scientist and researcher, is very different than when I started,” Padilla said. “We look better in terms of a nation of individuals who have the opportunity to get an education to be able to enter into higher [education] and the capacity to get a Ph.D. All of that has increased through time, and that I want to make sure continues.”

In the upcoming years, Padilla said she plans to continue her efforts to make UNT more diverse and inclusive for both students and faculty.

“I’m here to help in terms of providing individuals opportunity for research and increase opportunities [for] external funding to bring to the university, something that I’ve always been interested in because that translates very quickly to experiences for students and faculty,” Padilla said.

Students can get involved in promoting inclusion on campus by accepting diversity of thought and listening to others, Padilla said.

“Maintaining momentum [has been the greatest challenge],” Padilla said. “There’s sometimes an excitement in the beginning within a group to get certain activities and work done. You need to have persistence in obtaining goals, as well as being able to move some of those goals as time changes.”

Jose Robledo, Ph.D. candidate and advisee of Padilla, said Padilla has provided her students with opportunities to flourish in research and STEM.

“Dr. Padilla, my faculty advisor, has allowed me the opportunity to study under her to become a scientist,” Robledo said. “She has worked tirelessly in providing support for me throughout my academic career. From the moment I approached her as an undergraduate, eager to learn about her research, Dr. Padilla has been the most supportive faculty I have ever encountered.”

Padilla said the most rewarding part of her position is having the opportunity to get to know people from various departments at UNT.

“I have a good understanding of the unique and wonderful people we have across campus,” Padilla said. “I have really enjoyed interacting with students over the last 18 years. I don’t think I would want to do almost anything else.”

Courtesy Dr. Pamela Padilla

Source: North Texas Daily