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After nearly 20 years in various roles in the manufacturing industry, Laura O’Shaughnessy returned this fall to UT, her alma mater, as an assistant professor of practice in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering.

Image of Laura O’Shaughnessy
Laura O’Shaughnessy

She signed up for our Faculty Mentoring and Support program, which was created in collaboration with the Commission for BlacksCommission for LGBT People, and Commission for Women to foster a sense of community and support for tenure-line and full-time non-tenure-track faculty, especially those from historically underrepresented groups—those who identify as people of color, women, or LGBTQ.

“As a new professor, coming from industry and new to the academic world, I hope to make connections with other professors who can guide me to best practices and act as a resource when I have a question,” O’Shaughnessy said. “It will be very helpful to hear from colleagues how to develop a course, deal with uncomfortable classroom situations, appeal to the modern student, and utilize the many technological tools we have.”

Matthew Theriot, associate provost for faculty development and strategic initiatives, oversees the Faculty Mentoring and Support program.

Faculty members of all ranks are invited to be part of the program. Participants are divided into groups so they can learn from one another’s different perspectives. The program also offers professional development seminars.

Here, three faculty members—Rachel Chen, professor and director of the Center for Sustainable Business and Development; Amber Roessner, associate professor of journalism and electronic media; and Elizabeth Barker, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Biomedical Engineering—talk about their experiences in the program.

Why did you sign up?

Image of Rachel Chen
Rachel Chen

Chen: I’ve been at UT since 2000, and I enjoy networks and treasure friends across campus. I have been blessed by great mentors in my life and I wanted to have opportunities to give back to our UT community. I always look forward to making new connections with existing and new faculty members.

Roessner: I’ve been on the faculty since 2010, and I first heard of the faculty mentoring program when I was chairing the Diversity Champions committee. I recognized it as an opportunity to both learn from and to give back to UT. In particular, I sought mentorship, insights into how I could become a leader in the academy, and a forum to promote a more inclusive campus environment.

Barker: As an alum, I bleed orange. I even have an orange car, and I spent my first paycheck on season football tickets. I love this place and our students. I came to UT as a lecturer three years ago and just became a tenure-line faculty member last August. My goal isn’t just to get tenure—it’s to build a career here. I want to be engaged and participate in the university community.

What were the get-togethers like?

Chen: Our six-member group, which included two full professors, three assistant professors, and one lecturer, met for lunch and dinner gatherings. We exchanged emails and we met in person.

Image of Amber Roessner
Amber Roessner

Roessner: I balance my work with parenting a toddler, and I’ve been pleased to meet others who have goals similar to mine over lunch to minimize time away from our after-hours commitments.

Barker: In May I attended a two-day workshop hosted by the provost’s office called “Creating and Seizing Leadership Opportunities at UTK: A Workshop for Underrepresented Faculty.” There I met a leadership coach who gave the keynote address, and I hired her to work with me one-on-one for the summer.

What topics did you discuss?

Chen: Research focus, teaching tips, challenges of chasing external grants, family stories, smart investment plans, and available resources that can make us enjoy our busy lives more.

Roessner: Leadership in the academy, work-life balance, local community.

Image of Elizabeth Barker
Elizabeth Barker

Barker: During the workshop, we heard from senior faculty and administrators who described their journeys. Each one had a different story, had taken a different path. In my one-on-one sessions over the summer, I Skyped with my leadership coach regularly and she taught me that there is no script, no mold I need to fit into in order to lead. From her, I’ve learned I can be myself—my authentic self—and an effective leader.




What did you glean from the program?

Chen: I was energized by the junior faculty members and learned from other full professors. I enjoyed listening to their stories, laughed a lot, grieved with them, and was humbled to be able to share my stories with them.

Roessner: I had the opportunity to learn a great deal about leadership in the academy and to form connections with other individuals across campus who are committed to creating a more diverse and inclusive atmosphere at UT. I got tips to create a better work-life balance, and I believe that I helped more junior faculty understand the landscape of our university and East Tennessee.

Barker: I’ve realized I do have a place here in my department, my college, and my university. As one of only four female faculty—three of us junior—in a department of almost 60, I recognize that not only do I influence change, but Iama change. Through these programs I feel very supported here, and I want to contribute to creating and maintaining a culture of inclusivity for all faculty, staff, and students.