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SEA Change Welcomes New Deputy Director

Headshot of Valeria Sinclair-Chapman

Valeria Sinclair-Chapman has joined AAAS’ STEMM Equity Achievement (SEA) Change initiative as its new deputy director.

Sinclair-Chapman brings a wealth of experience in advancing diversity, equity and inclusion in higher education to SEA Change, which supports, guides and inspires educational institutions as they systemically transform to create environments for research and education in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine that are excellent, equitable, diverse, accessible and inclusive.

“Not only is Dr. Sinclair-Chapman a researcher who looks at issues of bias, inclusion, diversity, accessibility and equity, but as a faculty member, she is bringing a perspective that we don't have currently,” said Shirley Malcom, director of SEA Change and AAAS senior adviser. “She has new ideas to help build out the best version of SEA Change.”

Sinclair-Chapman joins SEA Change from Purdue University, where she was a full professor of political science. She describes herself as being “preoccupied by understanding and contributing to the construction of an inclusive multiracial democracy in the United States.” Broadly construed, her research has focused on the effects of racial, ethnic and gender diversity in political institutions and engagement. Until recently, Sinclair-Chapman served as a co-editor of the American Political Science Review, the flagship journal of the American Political Science Association. She is also a founding director of the Institute for Civically Engaged Research, hosted by the Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University.

At Purdue, she served as director of Purdue’s Center for Research on Diversity and Inclusion and facilitator for the ADVANCE-Purdue Diversity Catalyst Program, which aims to increase the ranks of women of color in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. She has sought to create a sense of ownership and belonging for first-generation, low-income and underrepresented undergraduate students by establishing residential learning communities both at Purdue and in her previous academic appointment.

In the wake of the killing of George Floyd in the summer of 2020, Sinclair-Chapman found herself “deflated and disheartened” by the slow pace of change toward a diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment, she said. Motivated by a sense of urgency, Sinclair-Chapman was closely following the efforts of the STEMM Opportunity Alliance – an initiative co-led by AAAS that aims to build a STEMM ecosystem rooted in equity, inclusion and scientific excellence to power progress, innovation and prosperity for all by 2050 – and saw a new path for her work.

“These are my people. These are the conversations I want to have,” said Sinclair-Chapman.

The experience that Sinclair-Chapman brings to AAAS and SEA Change includes “a first-hand perspective of the complex work that SEA Change members conduct as they support institutional change and transformation to support all students in STEMM,” said Travis York, director of Inclusive STEMM Ecosystems for Equity & Diversity at AAAS.

To undertake their transformative efforts, SEA Change institutions draw upon research-informed strategy and resources and a growing and supportive community of peers. By joining SEA Change, member institutions commit to equity and full participation of each individual across gender (including gender, gender identity and gender expression), race, ethnicity, disability status, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, age, familial history of higher education, and any other factor that is unrelated to ability and has been the target of bias and unequal treatment. Member institutions also have the opportunity to apply for SEA Change Awards, which since 2019 have honored institutions for progress made toward systemic transformation.

Sinclair-Chapman joins the SEA Change team at a key moment, as institutions navigate the Supreme Court’s recent rulings on the Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College and Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina cases – which may constrain institutions of higher education in considering a student’s race as one of many factors in their enrollment decisions.

Despite the political headwinds, Sinclair-Chapman sees opportunities. SEA Change has a solid foundation that allows it to be agile in responding to political changes, and there are plenty of likeminded institutions across the country with whom to collaborate on pursuing inclusive excellence, Sinclair-Chapman noted.

“In an arena of retrenchment, we don’t have to retreat,” said Sinclair-Chapman. “We can’t afford to leave all of this talent and all of this innovation on the table.”

SEA Change is also driving new opportunities for engagement with systemic transformation. SEA Change Biomedicine, which is currently recruiting a third pilot cohort, is tailored to meet the unique structures and responsibilities of academic biomedical and health sciences centers to achieve systemic transformation. SEA Change has also collaborated with professional societies in physics and astronomy to create a pilot award at the departmental level: the SEA Change Physics & Astronomy Award, which is administered and coordinated by a community composed of representatives from nine disciplinary societies.

Added York, “Bringing Dr. Sinclair-Chapman onto the team is the perfect next step to support our next phase of work as we seek to scale the initiative to more institutions and support implementation and collaboration across the member network.”