University Politics

Michele Wheatly’s push for STEM strategy follows trend of her career

Jacob Greenfeld | Asst. Photo Editor

Wheatly was hired as Syracuse University’s vice chancellor and provost in March 2016. The university recognized that Wheatly had received continuous funding from the NSF over the last 30 years totaling $25 million.

Syracuse University Vice Chancellor and Provost Michele Wheatly’s recent proposal to formulate a university-wide STEM branding strategy is reflective of a career in higher education that she’s spent attempting to advance the sciences.

Wheatly announced during a University Senate meeting on March 22 that she had been talking with deans to formulate “a university-wide STEM branding strategy” that places SU as “a leading model for contemporary STEM education.” Through this approach, Wheatly said SU could differentiate itself in a crowded marketplace and attract prospective students, educators and donors by uniting STEM education with non-STEM disciplines. Wheatly brings more than 30 years of background as a scientist and a researcher to SU.

RELATED: Michele Wheatly’s proposed STEM focus divides SU faculty

“We have many great stories to tell and one of them happens to be our unique STEM approach, which is broader than one school, college, or cluster of programs,” Wheatly said in a statement to The Daily Orange. “All of our schools and colleges contribute every day to a robust, multifaceted education in the sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics.”

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Wheatly has a background as a scientist and previous leadership positions held at universities advocating for the advancement of science, technology, engineering and mathematics — a field still heavily dominated by men — and empowering women and minorities.

Wheatly studied biological sciences at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom, where she eventually obtained her Ph.D. in comparative physiology in 1980.

Before taking over her current job at vice chancellor and provost at SU last year, Wheatly was provost at West Virginia University. During her time there, she widened the ADVANCE sponsorship program to underrepresented faculty in non-STEM fields and helped secure a $3.2 million ADVANCE grant for women in STEM field from the National Science Foundation, her curriculum vitae shows.

Before West Virginia University, she was the dean of the College of Science and Mathematics at Wright State University, where she increased undergraduate STEM enrollment by 10 percent and created new positions for coordinators of General Education and STEM Student Success. Working with Sinclair Community College, Wheatly increased first to second year retention for STEM major students, from 59 to 66 percent in science and 46 percent to 82 percent in engineering. She also obtained $19 million in federal and state funding to increase diversity in STEM fields for the university and carried out a congressional briefing in front of the House Science Committee about “Science for All Americans” in April 2004.

Wheatly was appointed as SU’s vice chancellor and provost in March 2016. The university recognized that Wheatly had received continuous funding from the NSF over the last 30 years totaling $25 million.

SU was recognized as a top tier research school in the 2015 Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, and three of its physicists contributed to the discovery of gravitational waves.

Laura Lautz, an associate professor and researcher at SU, said in a 2016 Daily Orange interview that Wheatly’s background in research enables her to more easily understand the needs of researchers in the STEM fields and what it is like to deal with institutions such as the NSF.

During the University Senate meeting on March 22, however, Wheatly highlighted the interdisciplinary possibilities between STEM and non-STEM subjects under the STEM brand strategy, saying it will help the advance a case to prospective students, donors and faculty that “Syracuse STEM education is bigger than the field for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.”

In the winter 2006 issue of Community magazine, a publication from Wright State University, Wheatly described building teams to collaborate on interdisciplinary projects in both the research and educational fields as the most rewarding part of being a dean.

“Critical to the research engine in the years ahead will be interdisciplinary solutions to complex problems,” Wheatly said in the magazine. “The best thing about being the dean is that I get to interact broadly with faculty across the sciences and mathematics. I have trained a lot of great scientists and take great satisfaction that a high proportion have been women.”

Graphic by Emma Comtois | Digital Designer

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