"If you want to be the dentist, be the dentist."
That's what LaQuia Vinson tells students thinking about applying to the Indiana University School of Dentistry — especially women.
"My biggest advice is, 'Don't give up,'" said Vinson, an associate professor in the school's Department of Pediatric Dentistry. "If you want to be the dentist, be the dentist. Don't settle or second-guess yourself."
It's advice she also kept in mind as she pursued her degree in the male-dominated field of dentistry and later, when a full-time faculty position opened up in 2009 within the School of Dentistry. She said she kept saying yes to the roles that presented themselves, and she also looked for ways to develop professionally, to be the best at any role she was in.
"We have to continue to move the needle when it comes to representation," Vinson said.
One program Vinson said helped get her started toward tenure is Enhanced Mentoring Program with Opportunities for Ways to Excel in Research, known as EMPOWER. Offered through the IUPUI Office for Women and co-sponsored and funded by the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research, EMPOWER is just one of the IUPUI programs that support historically underrepresented faculty and staff.
"I was connected with a mentor and awarded $4,000 to help assist in building my research," Vinson said. "As a new faculty member who was getting her footing in conducting research, this was crucial to my success. That funding enabled me to produce three peer-reviewed journal articles and an international poster presentation, and in turn, to provide mentorship to an undergraduate student.”
Working for inclusivity and equality
Before Title IX passed 50 years ago, few women held leadership roles in higher education. A 1968 survey of nearly 200 sociology departments found that while women accounted for 30 percent of the doctoral candidates, they made up only 4 percent of full professors and 1 percent of department chairs.
Today, the statistics are different. At IUPUI, the dean of the School of Dentistry is a woman. In fact, women hold eight dean positions across the campus, and many more leadership positions beyond that.
The Office for Women has played a crucial role in that progress through the programs and mentoring it offers to empower women at IUPUI and increase equity. The office celebrated its 25th anniversary last year.
"Since its founding, IUPUI has been very conscious of gender equity issues," said Kathleen Grove, director of the Office for Women. "We were right there at the beginning when the federal government gave this enormous push for higher education access for women."
Three years after IUPUI was founded, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 passed. The legislation aims to provide equal educational and employment opportunities for women by prohibiting sex discrimination at federally funded schools.
Grove was in law school at what is now the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law when Title IX became law.
"I remember that moment, how important and impactful it was," she said. "At the time, there weren't many (if any) collegiate or high school sports opportunities for women. Several Ivy League schools and the military academies still did not admit women. Women could not get credit cards in their own names. A woman could be fired from her job if she were pregnant. Women's talent and voices were lacking in leadership positions across the country.
"Going to law school in the middle of the second wave of feminism, I learned there was still a lot of work to be done. Title IX opened up undergraduate education and professional education for women, and there are many more great opportunities for women in higher education today."
Grove said enrollment at IUPUI doubled from 1969 to 1979, and the percentage of female students rose from 41 to 58 percent.
Continuing to increase opportunities for women at IUPUI is central to Grove's work. Over her nearly two decades of service at IUPUI, Grove said she is most proud of the ongoing programming that the Office for Women developed in collaboration with other units, which focuses on creating an inclusive environment through mentoring, women's leadership development, professional development and gender equity. It expanded the annual Women's History Month awards, which honor faculty, staff and students who've shown leadership in gender equity, and was instrumental in the 2019 IUPUI Conference for Women, which hosted 400 employees for a day of professional development and workshops.
The Office for Women has also been instrumental in adding more wellness rooms on campus for nursing mothers. From 2013 to 2016, the Office for Women worked with the Division of Student Affairs to design and oversee a Nursing Mothers Room at the Campus Center at IUPUI.
"The Nursing Mothers Room is an incredibly valuable addition to the myriad of services that the Campus Center provides the community," said Joe Hayes, director of the Division of Student Affairs. "As the primary gathering space on campus, we host 10,000 people a day coming and going for various reasons, and the Office for Women recognized this place as being a prime location for a new space. We couldn't be happier with the space and have received numerous compliments over the years since it's been operational."
For more than a decade, the Advancing Women Mentoring Program, which is co-sponsored with the Division of Student Affairs, has paired students with faculty and staff members. Throughout the academic year, professional development programs and workshops are provided for the pairs, focusing on professional and career development needs and issues impacting the success of women in the workforce.
"The impact of women at IUPUI is vast," said Anne Mitchell, director of the Office of Equal Opportunity at IUPUI, IUPUC and IU Fort Wayne. "We have a long history of women leaders at IUPUI that have not only succeeded in their fields but have also created networks of women generally and networks of women of color, who have mentored each other and lifted each other up. And that work continues. It's also important to realize we're not all the way there yet. We've never had a woman chancellor, for example."
According to a 2014 task force report, there was a steady increase in the number of tenure-track and tenured faculty at IUPUI from 2002 to 2012. Mitchell said she'd like to see more women and women of color in faculty research and tenure-track positions.
EMPOWER in action
LaQuia Vinson's research has focused on a product called DynaCleft, a presurgical device designed to improve outcomes for babies born with cleft lip and palate. As she got started as a full-time faculty member, Vinson realized there wasn't any research readily available on the product. Her work on DynaCleft over the past 10 years -- funded first by EMPOWER and then by other grants -- has helped hundreds of babies at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health.
"The EMPOWER program was vitally important," she said. "When I started at the School of Dentistry, I was the only full-time female faculty member for the graduate program in pediatric dentistry, and I had no background in academics. So to be able to have a starting point was huge: Not only for me, but for those babies at Riley, as well."
Vinson said she is thankful for what IUPUI has made possible in her career. Since starting with EMPOWER, she has continued to add leadership roles along the way. She was promoted and tenured in 2019, and she also became the postgraduate residency program director the same year. She just completed another program offered through the Office for Women, the Next Generation 2.0 Leadership Training Program, which supports mid-career faculty and professional staff at IUPUI who are women and/or members of underrepresented populations and are seeking professional development opportunities and leadership training. Next Generation 2.0 is funded and co-lead by the Office of Academic Affairs.
"I'm thankful these opportunities and resources exist at IUPUI," Vinson said. "These connections, mentoring opportunities and networking opportunities wouldn't exist without the Office for Women at IUPUI and all those who've been instrumental in starting these programs and keeping them going. And they've helped me to get to where I am today."
The strides IUPUI has made in increasing opportunities and equity for women haven't gone unnoticed. Last year, Forbes Magazine listed IUPUI among its top employers for women in 2021. IUPUI ranked 14th out of 300 employers on the list -- the top employer for women in Indiana and the No. 3 university in the nation.
"There's still a lot of work to do," Grove said. "The work of diversity, inclusion and equity is a constant. You can't do one thing and think you've achieved it, because there are ongoing obstacles and challenges. So the work goes on. And I'm grateful IUPUI recognizes and supports these efforts. "
"We need to continue to inspire people to know they can push themselves forward and go forward," Vinson added. "I think Title IX gives women a boost to be able to say, 'We are equally qualified. There's no reason we can't fulfill or say yes to that new role. We're just as capable to do everything men can do.'"