On Friday, Jan. 19, 2021, members of the Eberly College of Science community gathered to recognize three individuals who have displayed extraordinary commitment to enhancing the environment of mutual respect and diversity in the college over the past year. The college’s Climate and Diversity Awards, sponsored by its Climate and Diversity Committee, are presented at an annual ceremony in recognition of the efforts of staff, faculty, and students who improve the climate and diversity of the college.
The Climate and Diversity Committee chose three winners from the pool of nominees: John Moses, Sofia Roitman, and Claire Thomas.
Moses, an academic adviser with the college’s Prehealth Advising group, was nominated by Carolyn Jensen, director of the Eberly College of Science Advising Center, and Ronald Markle, professor of biology and director of premedicine and science majors.
During his time as an academic adviser, Moses has helped organize participation in safe zone training for advising staff, educated peers on inclusivity, created a more affordable service to allow students access to resources, and has been working to increase the diversity pool of applicants for the Science B.S./MBA program.
Moses’ commitment to diversity and inclusion extend well beyond his time as an academic adviser. His studies for his master’s degree in higher education focused on working with students who are deaf or hard of hearing. As a graduate student, he led students on an alternative spring break to work with immigrants on building language skills and with a women’s shelter and a food bank on mitigating food insecurity. Moses’ efforts were also recognized during his time working at Penn State Altoona, where he was an active member of the campus diversity and inclusion organization, and with the College of Engineering at University Park, where he worked with LGBTQ+ students.
“John embodies all aspects of this award. The Eberly College of Science is lucky to have him on our staff,” Jensen said. “I recommend him with the highest level of support. In my group, I feel that he is a leader in our efforts to support our diverse student population. We tell students to demonstrate their commitment to their passions by their action (to tell and show) — John does this every day.”
Roitman, a biology graduate student, was nominated by Bernhard Lüscher, professor of biology, biochemistry and molecular biology, and psychiatry. Lüscher praised Roitman’s work as not only a student but also a leader in inclusivity at Penn State.
Soon after arriving at University Park, Roitman created the Penn State chapter of SACNAS (Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics & Native Americans in Science). The organization, which includes both undergraduate and graduate students, aims to provide underrepresented minority groups with opportunities for professional development, conducting and presenting research, networking with other diverse faculty and students, and general engagement in the sciences. As part of SACNAS, Roitman has run workshops on graduate school applications, encouraged members to attend conferences, and been a mentor.
Roitman has joined her advisor, Mónica Medina, in mentoring international and underrepresented students in the Bridge to Ph.D. program, which is jointly hosted by the Penn State Department of Biology, the University of the Virgin Islands, and the University of Cartagena. During her time at Penn State, she has also developed and grown an online course that includes underrepresented students in various labs.
“Sofia has been more than generous again with her time and knowledge, showing exceptional leadership and enthusiasm for fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) in the Eberly College of Science,” Lüscher said. “We are grateful for Sofia’s many outstanding contributions to a more inclusive academic environment in her laboratory, the Department of Biology, and Penn State at large.”
Thomas, associate professor of biology, was nominated by Wendy Hanna-Rose, head of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. During her time at Eberly, Thomas has worked to increase inclusivity not only within the institution but also in the greater STEM and State College communities.
Thomas has been a member of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Climate and Diversity Committee, serving in leadership positions for multiple terms. As part of this committee, she raised awareness of mentoring issues and the need to reflect on mentoring regularly in order to maximize effectiveness. Thomas is an active member of the American Society for Cell Biology LGBTQ+ task force, for whom she was the keynote speaker in 2019. Most recently, Thomas created the Rainbow Science Network, which aims to increase the diversity of research trainees in the Eberly College of Science.
Beyond her work with the University, Thomas is the founder of The 100% Sign, a nonprofit that promotes universal acceptance of human diversity. Using this platform, Thomas has worked to promote acceptance in the Society of Public Health Educators and Genetics Society of America. Most recently, Thomas has been working on developing a mobile laboratory to benefit underserved schools in Pennsylvania.
“Her activism ensures that we create comfortable and inclusive spaces for the wide diversity of people who are welcome in STEM,” Hanna-Rose said. “It is clear that Claire devotes significant time and energy to efforts that will benefit others — pushing us to create more welcoming spaces for all. Her work allows us to move toward our goal of being a fully inclusive STEM community.”