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NIST Hosts Speaker on Building Inclusive Infrastructures in Academia

NIST Hosts Speaker on Building Inclusive Infrastructures in Academia
Credit: CTL

In an enlightening and engaging session organized by the Belonging Initiative of NIST’s Smart Connected Systems Division, Dr. Sera Linardi (University of Pittsburgh; 2024 Siegel Faculty Impact Fellow at Cornell Tech) explored the possibilities and obstacles to building social innovation-focused academic research programs that are more responsive to the needs and perspectives of local communities and underserved groups. Dr. Linardi’s presentation “Take Three: Multiple Attempts to Build Inclusive Infrastructures in Academia” provided an overview of her comprehensive research and institution-building and personal experiences, including the nuanced challenges and creative strategies essential for fostering inclusivity in higher education.

The first part of Dr. Linardi's presentation provided an introspective look at her journey as a pre-tenured faculty member, emphasizing the pivotal role of previous methodological training (“the hammer”) in the framing of research questions (“the nail”). Through this lens, Dr. Linardi illustrated the balancing act that community-oriented researchers have to undertake as they attempt to meet the threshold of academic rigor and innovation in their disciplines while reflecting the priorities and lived experiences of people in the community. This highlights the necessity of creating broader systems that recognize and intentionally provide support for understanding the complexity and cost of community-engaged research – which often goes unrewarded in the researcher’s discipline. 

Expanding the focus beyond the faculty perspective, Dr. Linardi next discussed service-learning infrastructures in universities and the limitations of individual disciplines and academic calendars in benefitting community partners. Dr. Linardi founded the Center for Analytical Approach to Social Innovation (CAASI) at Pitt to train multidisciplinary groups of students to co-design, implement, and co-lead community-requested projects over multiple semesters. CASSI was highlighted as an effective model for grassroots data science, fostering a shared sense of mission and belonging among diverse populations inside and outside the university’s walls. The third attempt at inclusive infrastructures discussed by Dr. Linardi took the form of Equity and Access in Algorithms, Mechanisms, and Optimization (EAAMO) – a multi-institutional initiative to support social justice-oriented early-career computational researchers.  Each attempt, as shared by Dr. Linardi, serves as a beacon for ongoing efforts to dismantle barriers and build a more inclusive, accessible academic world.

Overall, Dr. Linardi’s presentation highlighted the multi-faceted and multi-disciplinary approaches needed to address inclusivity in academia. The concepts and social values resonated with participants in the Belonging Initiative, which promotes belonging and inclusivity for all, and creates a safe and open environment for meaningful data-driven conversations.  

For additional information, please contact Wendy Guo (wenqi.guo [at] (wenqi[dot]guo[at]nist[dot]gov)) or Dr. Linardi (linardi [at] (linardi[at]pitt[dot]edu)).

Released April 1, 2024, Updated May 24, 2024