Fairfield University faculty honored for leadership in STEM fields and diversity initiatives

Faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Nursing were honored for outstanding leadership in STEM fields and for creating important diversity initiatives.

FAIRFIELD, Conn. (March 12, 2014) – Fairfield University faculty members have been singled out for playing leading roles in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields and for creating key diversity initiatives.

Shelley Phelan, Ph.D., professor of biology in the College of Arts and Sciences, of Sandy Hook, Connecticut, is an honoree for the 2015 Women of Innovation® award in the category of Academic Innovation and Leadership. This award is part of a unique program that honors Connecticut’s outstanding women innovators, role models and leaders in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

The Women of Innovation® program is presented by The Connecticut Technology Council (CTC), which is celebrating 11 years of inspiring women and girls to pursue careers in STEM. A winner in each of eight categories will be announced during an awards presentation on April 1, at the Aqua Turf Club in Southington, Conn.

Dr. Phelan is a molecular cell biologist with recent research interests in the area of breast cancer. She has mentored over 60 undergraduate students in her laboratory at Fairfield, and has published several articles and abstracts co-authored with Fairfield students.

She has played a lead role in several initiatives for science students on campus, including the creation of the Peer Learning Group program for general biology students, the founding of the Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics floor, involvement in the Fairfield University Chapter of Sigma Xi, and the creation of the Broadening Access to Science Education (BASE) summer science camp for inner-city, high-school students.

Brian Walker, Ph.D., associate dean in the College of Arts and Sciences, said, “It’s very exciting and well-deserved for Dr. Phelan to be honored as a Woman of Innovation. Having worked with Shelley for almost 10 years now, I am continually amazed at her energy for her research and teaching, and the amazing ideas and innovative practices she brings to her work. Most notably, BASE camp – Shelley’s brainchild, is a program of exemplary excellence for which she should be most proud.”

In the School of Nursing (SON), Drs. Sandy Cayo and Jessica Planas have been awarded with the INSIGHT Into Diversity “Diversity Visionary Award.”

INSIGHT Into Diversity is the oldest and largest diversity magazine and website in higher education today. Drs. Planas and Cayo were nominated specifically for their work on Fairfield’s School of Nursing’s new diversity initiative, Zero Attrition Mission (ZAM).

ZAM is an initiative that aims to develop a culture of inclusivity, in a traditionally homogenous environment and to improve attrition rates of under-represented nursing student populations. The vision and purpose of this organization is to promote the needs of under-represented nursing students at the School of Nursing. The goal is to serve as an additional resource to these students through professional nursing mentorship, improvement of academic supports and exploration of environmental factors contributing to success.

Meredith Kazer, Ph.D., APRN, FAAN, dean of the School of Nursing, said, “These two faculty members have worked tirelessly on both School of Nursing and University initiatives related to diversity. The Diversity Visionary award is the only national individual honor of its kind and is presented as a tribute to their vision, dedication and long-term commitment to diversity and inclusion. We are so proud of their accomplishments.”

Dr. Sandy Cayo, DNP, FNP-BC, is a recent graduate of the School’s doctoral program and joined the clinical adjunct faculty in 2014. She is the Off Shift Nurse Leader at Yale New Haven Hospital and is the Advanced Practice Nurse for the Midwestern Connecticut Council on Alcoholism. When she was still a student, Dr. Cayo sought to take on the topic of increasing the diversity of the SON population and soon connected with Dr. Planas to develop the ZAM initiative.

Dr. Jessica Alicea-Planas, Ph.D., MS/MPH, RN, CHES, of Bridgeport, Connecticut, has worked as a community health nurse in underserved areas for the last 15 years and is a certified health education specialist (CHES). Her primary area of interest includes Latino health disparities and the care of vulnerable populations with a focus on chronic disease management, health literacy and health education.

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Media Contact: Meg McCaffrey, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2726, mmccaffrey@fairfield.edu

Posted on March 16, 2015

Vol. 47, No. 206

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