March 15, 2021


DePaul’s College of Science and Health Meets the Demand for Growth in STEM

In a year that included the COVID-19 pandemic and protests for racial justice, DePaul’s College of Science and Health stayed busy as faculty and staff chipped in to make a difference by donating PPE equipment, publishing research to shape the conversation around the virus, and creating guidance on how to build an antiracist lab. As the college begins celebrating its 10th anniversary, Dean Stephanie Dance-Barnes joins DePaul Download to discuss the college’s past, present and future.



LINDA BLAKLEY: Welcome to DePaul Download. I’m your host, Linda Blakley, Vice President of University Marketing and Communications.

In 2011, DePaul University established the College of Science and Health, bringing together eight departments, four centers, and the newly created health sciences program. Since then, the college has established numerous programs, including the doctor of nursing practice and studies in neuroscience, speech language pathology, environmental science, occupational therapy, and community psychology. Now, 10 years later, the college is celebrating the milestone with a variety of events. Here with me today to talk about not only the anniversary, but also what’s ahead, how they are addressing diversity in STEM, and how the college has been helping to fight the COVID-19 pandemic is College of Science and Health Dean, Dr. Stephanie Dance-Barnes.

Stephanie, welcome to DePaul Download.

STEPHANIE DANCE-BARNES: Thank you, Linda. I’m so happy to be here with you today.

LINDA BLAKLEY: So you have been DePaul’s dean of the College of Science and Health for about seven months now. Tell us a little bit more about yourself, your career and your research interests.

STEPHANIE DANCE-BARNES: My most recent position coming to DePaul was at Winston-Salem State University. I was there about 10 years. And while at Winston-Salem State University, I was a biological sciences faculty member. And during my time as a faculty member, I did extensive work with the general education curriculum, particularly as it relates to integrating information, literacy and science courses. I developed a novel course called the Science of Investigation of Diseases, which was very popular. And that also led to me working more closely with the curriculum of the biology department where I did help to spearhead the revision of the curriculum where we added four new concentrations. And so that did open up a lot more opportunities for our students. Additionally, one of the areas where I saw needed growth at Winston-Salem State was with our women in science. There were no real organizations, so I developed the Women in Science Program, the very first program for women in science at the university, and it was very popular. We actually won several awards. And it is still in existence today. I then went on to co-chair the Biological Sciences Department. And not long after that, I was actually also appointed to be associate provost and dean of the University College of Lifelong Learning, which basically does all things student success—advising, first-year experience, academic support as it relates to tutoring, supplemental instruction. I was very busy in that space. But I felt all of those experiences uniquely positioned me to come into the College of Science and Health.

Particularly thinking about my research area, which is cancer research, I did do several years specifically related to lung cancer, but I then transitioned to breast cancer doing my postdoctoral work at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. And with that work, my focus was in triple negative breast cancer, which is a specific subtype of breast cancer that has extremely negative outcomes for African-American women. And so it was very important to me to bring the area of cancer research to Winston-Salem State University because, at that time, there was no real cancer research going on, and so it allowed me to expose underrepresented students in that area to cancer research, and particularly women. And so that then brought me to DePaul. I’m so excited by the opportunity to be here.

LINDA BLAKLEY: We are very fortunate to have you with us now. So how has your adjustment been to the city of Chicago and to a new academic home?

STEPHANIE DANCE-BARNES: Oh, my goodness. It has been so interesting. So the new move during a pandemic. Who chooses to do that? But I’ve gotten through what I hope is my first Chicago winter, so snowblowers, snow pants and boots for the kids, getting used to not having things shut down as it did in North Carolina. But I can say the onboarding has not been difficult at all. Usually, you think about going into a new role, the onboarding can be quite scary. But I have to give a shout-out to Stephanie Smith [DePaul’s vice president for human resources] and her team. It was so seamless. I really appreciate the effort that was put into ensuring that I felt comfortable here in providing resources in that regard. I really came into the role trying to avoid “my previous institution” syndrome. People come in thinking it’s going to be the same, but it’s not. I really try very hard not to do that because priorities and tasks, they’re ever-changing, particularly, as I mentioned before, during a unique time where there is a pandemic going on, and so there is a need to be adaptive and flexible. And so I definitely see the uniqueness in DePaul. It basically made me reflect a bit more and think about what can I bring to this institution. I think knowing the history of the professional environment of DePaul and CSH has been very important. I’ve had hundreds of Zooms with faculty, students, staff, alumni, community partners, friends of the university just to make sure that I understood that professional environment and culture and begin building those relationships because I think that’s important for me, and it also allows me to get constructive feedback and allow for meaningful reflection.

LINDA BLAKLEY: So moving when you did and into a whole new role at this time and at a time now where the college is celebrating its 10th anniversary probably calls for a lot of reimagining. How has the college grown and evolved since its inception? And what do you see for the college in the next 10 years?

STEPHANIE DANCE-BARNES: I think about really DePaul as a whole. I’ve learned a lot about the institution. For 123 years, DePaul has been developing exceptional service-minded students, and that’s what we’re attempting to do within CSH. I’m super excited to be the dean during this time because, as you indicated, we’re celebrating a decade of excellence in teaching, service, and scholarship. During 2021, which has come in at a wonderful time where 2020 that I guess we can all look at as being quite challenging, and I like to think of it as a time where we can look at it as having opportunities. And so I think that is perfect for us this year with this celebration because I think, as a community, we’ve evolved and CSH has evolved as a college. And so I really want this to be a time that we’re reflecting on the beginnings of the college, spinning out of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and branching off to CSH where it had a very strong basic science foundation, and then moving towards a space where we are branching into health and clinical fields. We know that that all began with our BS in Health Sciences program. And since then, we developed our Pathways Program with Rosalind Franklin [University of Medicine and Science] which is a very important relationship that we have going. We are in ongoing conversations to see that thrive and become even more meaningful. But I think it’s even more important for me to emphasize that I believe there was a very intentional thought put into the nimbleness of the structure of the college to ensure that we would have this crosstalk between the science and health spaces and that we could have an interdisciplinary approach to how we are delivering our curriculum, allowing for that collaboration in research and meaningful and relevant innovation discovery. I am really excited to see how this 10th anniversary is going to culminate because there are definitely a series of events that represent the full breadth of the college and there are numerous faculty, staff, and students, alumni, and friends of the college that are working vigorously to make sure that we have an exceptional set of programming in store for everyone. With that, I just want to use this time to invite everyone to participate in these dynamic and robust series of events that are going to be upcoming very soon.

LINDA BLAKLEY: Back in October, the College of Science and Health faculty member, Dr. Bala Chaudhary, came on the podcast to talk about the lack of diversity in STEM and shared tips on how to create an antiracist lab. As the dean of the college, what are your goals and plans to help DePaul tackle this issue?

STEPHANIE DANCE-BARNES: I think, first and foremost, those that have gotten to know me and those that will get to know me, I’m a very transparent and open person. Visibly when I come into a room, there is no secret that I’m an African-American female in a field that sometimes individuals like me are underrepresented. And so I take that as a personal responsibility to ensure that I’m creating a culture that fosters opportunities for not just African-American females but everyone, diverse individuals to come into a space and feel comfortable with contributing, and not just participating, but excelling. And so I think when we consider diversity, we do sometimes apply color to that, but diversity comes in all shapes and forms. For me, I want the College of Science and Health to be a comfortable, safe space for all. We have worked very hard to develop a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee that is college-wide, and this committee is currently working very effectively to ensure that we are evaluating our processes and reviewing data, but not just reviewing it, thinking about how are we going to act upon that data and being very intentional about what next steps will be, looking at our faculty recruitment processes because that’s going to be important to ensure that we’re a diverse faculty in front of our students, making sure we’re creating a culture where students feel comfortable going to their advisors, their faculty, and staff to talk about issues that they may be having that could be impeding their learning or impeding their success. For me, as the dean of the College of Science and Health, it is very important for me to ensure that we’re doing all that we can as faculty and staff and students to once again create a culture that’s going to allow us to make an impact in our community and serve the world. I think the work that you indicated earlier on about having an antiracist lab, we’re going to have an antiracist college and university institution, and part of that is acknowledging the differences. I think we all know that there is maybe a tendency to say, oh, I don’t see color, or I don’t see this about an individual, but that’s part of the issue. We have to acknowledge that there are differences. When we do that, we are more able to embrace them and to utilize the strength in those differences.

LINDA BLAKLEY: Nowadays, in STEM industries, there is a massive demand for healthcare workers, cutting-edge research, and innovative technologies. How is the college meeting these incredible demands and preparing students for life after graduation?

STEPHANIE DANCE-BARNES: That is absolutely true. With the pandemic that we’re currently in, more than ever, we are seeing the growing need for highly trained healthcare professionals. We do know, as a college, we are aware that the industry of healthcare is expected to add even more jobs over the next 10 years and be even more competitive and in need of well-trained healthcare professionals. And so I feel that it’s important for the college to ensure that we are bringing faculty and also opportunities to the table that’s going to allow our students to compete, and not just compete, but feel that they are well-trained to participate and to provide support in these spaces. And so I think what we really need to think about as well is that the need for what we might consider acute care is going to probably decrease a bit more as we move forward, that the focus is really going to move towards an intensified interest towards population health. And so within the college, we’re really thinking about it from a perspective of how we can really work better to educate and provide health support from a community perspective and from a public health perspective. That is going to be really a growing field as we move forward and how are we equipping our students to excel with this type of dynamic. We want to also make sure that we’re thinking about the interprofessional opportunities that we need to make available. We need to have students in the science and health spaces that can be mindful of the different types of trainings across disciplines. What we have found particularly, once again, with the pandemic, if we don’t have our nurses, our various healthcare professionals, and other types of clinicians that are skilled in various areas, and understand how to function in practice, that can lead to errors, so we want to make sure that we are training our students so that they are focused on patient safety, inhibiting medical errors, and also ensuring that we’re improving communication and collaboration. That kind of speaks also to that technology piece. So how as researchers and clinicians in the health space can we better inform the types of technology that can be put in place and understand how to utilize it effectively to make a difference. I think moving forward as a college, we’ll really have to be in that mind frame of thinking in regard to how we are delivering our curriculum and opportunities for our students.

LINDA BLAKLEY: Switching topics for a moment now to the COVID-19 pandemic, a critical part of STEM education is in-person labs. How has the college helped students complete lab work in a mostly virtual environment?

STEPHANIE DANCE-BARNES: The college has assisted students in completing that work very selflessly, passionately, mindfully, thoughtfully, and basically putting their all and all into it. I could not tell you the level of dedication that I’ve seen in faculty and staff in ensuring that we’re giving the students the best possible experience, sometimes near exhaustion. I don’t say any of this lightly because I truly know the amount of time and effort that they put into that work. We have departments that meet routinely to ensure that they’re taking feedback from the students, taking feedback from our advising spaces, taking feedback from our student affairs places to ensure that we’re providing the most effective support, and, as much as we possibly can, trying to not have students fall between the gaps because sometimes that can happen because students, unfortunately, they don’t know the best strategies all the time how to self-advocate for themselves. Part of this process has been to improve communication and help provide skills for our students so that they can more effectively communicate their needs to us. But from a technical standpoint, we have faculty that are utilizing Zoom Close Friends, doing demonstrations, pre-recorded lab experiences, mailing out lab kits so students can do work from home, simulation labs. There have been so many opportunities that our faculty have attempted to make for our students and provide for our students to ensure that they have the best possible experience. There are still some faculty, under the best precautions, using social distancing, masks, that are doing research with select students. We have been doing our very best to ensure despite being in this remote setting, we’re providing the best possible experience for our students. Of course, we would prefer to be with them in person. All things—you know, all prayers up that we’ll be more in-person in autumn. I feel and I will continue to sing the praises of the faculty and staff of the College of Science and Health for the experiences that they have provided to date.

LINDA BLAKLEY: One more question related to COVID-19. Your college has been on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic providing PPE equipment to local healthcare workers and publishing research that’s shaped the conversation around the coronavirus. Can you talk about some of the projects that faculty, staff and students have been involved in?

STEPHANIE DANCE-BARNES: I believe—and I will probably say some of the biggest efforts have been in our public health space. Our health sciences department have had numerous forums that have kept the college, which include our students, faculty and staff, up to date about the state of the disease, ensuring that everyone is well-informed to make the best possible decisions possible. That has probably been some of the most impactful work that I’ve seen from an education dissemination standpoint. But as you mentioned, the distribution of PPE and other resources is quite meaningful as well when we think about those frontline workers that have been putting their own lives at risk. We actually have in our nursing spaces where some of our students are still in placements, and so they’re on the frontline as well as with our nursing faculty. And so the college as a whole has uniquely positioned itself in a space where we can provide opportunities and be leaders in regard to this pandemic. But once again, we have to always consider with any sort of disease, it’s ever-changing, and so we’re always mindful to say that with every day, something might change. That’s why it’s important for us to continue to do the work that we’re doing so that we can ensure that we’re providing the best possible information and resources so that everyone can make the best-informed decisions.

LINDA BLAKLEY: I have one final question for you. What do you think makes a degree from DePaul’s College of Science and Health distinctive?

STEPHANIE DANCE-BARNES: Outside of all the things I’ve already mentioned in regard to us having the most exceptional faculty, staff and students, I do think that it’s obvious that CSH maintains the traditional exceptional quality of higher education, particularly in the areas of teaching, intellectually rich faculty, tremendous research, and supportive systems for student success. However, I believe the mark of distinction is what I kind of indicated earlier which drew me to DePaul, which is the Vincentian character that’s embedded in all that we do. It’s embedded in how we’re preparing our graduates and how we’re engaging them and how we think about innovations and discovery in science and health because, ultimately, it’s to serve. It’s to serve our students, it’s to serve our faculty and staff, and to be of service to others in our community and beyond. I think that is at the core of what makes CSH distinctive.

LINDA BLAKLEY: Thank you, Dr. Dance-Barnes, for joining me today. I look forward to celebrating the College of Science and Health’s upcoming anniversary and attending some of the events that your team has planned. And finally, I want to say thank you for the college’s efforts to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. I appreciate everyone’s hard work and dedication. Your college is living out DePaul’s Vincentian mission of what must be done each and every day.

STEPHANIE DANCE-BARNES: And I want to thank you, too, Linda, for inviting me. I want to remind everyone to not forget the Now We Must Campaign because we can’t do anything without providing financial and other resources to our students. Thank you.

LINDA BLAKLEY: For more information about the College of Science and Health and its 10-year anniversary, please visit the DePaul Download website. I’m Linda Blakley. Thank you for listening to another episode of DePaul Download presented by DePaul’s Division of University Marketing and Communications.