Survey reveals biggest threat to health care delivery system 

The single biggest threat to the health care delivery system in New York is the ability to attract and retain staff, according to a new report by Common Ground Health 

Workforce shortages exist across the full spectrum of health care workers, including nurses, public health staff and community-based nonprofit employees.  

The long-term care sector is most affected by workforce shortages, with almost 4,000 openings and a 71 percent turnover rate for home health aides and personal care aides, according to the report.  


“New York state’s health care system is in critical condition due to workforce shortages,” said Wade Norwood, CEO of Common Ground Health. “While the health care system continues to evolve – such as the shift to electronic health records, telehealth and team-based care – investments and staff training methods must evolve as well to build the workforce needed for the 21st century.” 

The report – entitled Critical Condition: Sustainable Investments Required to Build a Skilled, Supported and Equitable Health Care Workforce – showed that that while New York state has experienced health care system workforce shortages for many years, these shortages were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The report outlined a series of actions needed to address the threat of workforce shortages. 

They are improving training, overcoming barriers to existing training, diversifying the workforce and a more consistent approach to diversity, equity, inclusion and anti-racism training.  

Respondents also identified interest in learning more about working with Deaf and hard of hearing populations and those with disabilities, as well as rural cultural competency, health literacy, trauma-informed care, social determinants of health and health equity. 

Common Ground Health disseminated the survey in November 2020 to more than 300 health care organizations across 27 counties, in collaboration with Finger Lakes Performing Provider System, the Central New York Area Health Education Center and the Western New York Rural AHEC.  

Since survey responses were received prior to the availability of COVID-19 vaccines, they do not include an assessment of vaccine mandates’ impact on the workforce. The survey had a response rate of 40 percent.  

The Regional Consortium on Health Care Workforce, co-convened by Common Ground and FLPPS, guided the report’s focus and recommendations. The consortium is addressing a wide range of issues, such as recruitment, retention, essential skills and competencies and reducing shortages for key health care positions.  

[email protected] / (585) 653-4021 

Searles to join Trillium Health leadership team

Joseph Searles has joined Trillium Health as its vice president and chief community engagement officer. He starts his new position on Oct. 25.

Searles previously served as corporate diversity relations director for Excellus Blue Cross Blue Shield. He has been a member of Trillium Health’s board of directors since 2017.

“I’m thrilled that Joseph will be joining our executive leadership team at Trillium Health,” said Trillium President and CEO Andrea DeMeo. “Joseph brings a wealth of experience and dedication to fostering diversity, equity and inclusion; he is well acquainted with our mission, vision and values; and he shares our commitment to barrier- and stigma-free care. Joseph will serve as an important adviser to me and our entire executive and operational leadership teams as we work together to achieve diversity, equity and inclusion both within our culture at Trillium Health and in our efforts to address health equity within the community.”

Searles has nearly 15 years of experience in community relations; diversity, equity and inclusion; strategic planning; and organizational development. A native of Rochester, he has cultivated a broad network of influential leaders in the community, including government officials, municipalities, business leaders, higher education leaders and community-based health and human service organizations.

Joseph Searles

“It excites me that Trillium Health continues to evolve as a premier organization for healthcare, LGBTQ advocacy, diversity, equity, inclusion and access in our communities,” Searles said. “I am equally energized to be joining an organization that has a legacy of serving the LGBTQ community’s health and well-being.”

Searles has been a member of many boards and task forces for local professional organizations, including Trillium Health, the United Way of Greater Rochester and the Finger Lakes, Common Ground Health, YWCA of Rochester Monroe County, Ibero American Action League, Out Alliance, Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Rochester Gay Men’s Chorus.

In his new role, Searles will be responsible for strategic leadership, development and oversight of Trillium Health’s community engagement, DEI and LGBTQ health and education initiatives. Searles and his team will be responsible for building bridges with like-minded organizations and developing and facilitating the implementation of DEI strategies that are aligned with the organization’s mission and strategic plan, with a focus on addressing needs in underrepresented and marginalized communities to achieve health equity.

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
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CCSI conference to address diversity, racial equity

Coordinated Care Services Inc. this week will collaborate with the Urban League of Rochester, N.Y. Inc. and Action for a Better Community Inc. on a two-day conference focused on diversity, racial equity and inclusion.

“From Theory to Practice: The Individual, the Organization and the Community. The How is Now” will take place virtually on April 21 and April 22 and will feature special appearances from Seanelle Hawkins, president and CEO of the Urban League; Jerome Underwood, president and CEO of ABC; and Simeon Banister, vice president of community programs at Rochester Area Community Foundation. Hawkins and Underwood will open the events on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively, while Banister will offer closing remarks on Thursday.

Kesha Carter
Kesha Carter

“The whole idea behind that is to show that we’re all partners in this work because it’s the community and all of our workforces that benefit the most. We don’t covet that information and we actually come together to make a difference in this work,” said Kesha Carter, CCSI’s chief diversity officer. “So I’m really happy that we’re coming together to partner on all of this.”

The topic on the first day of the conference will look at dismantling structural racism in mental health, with keynote speaker Ruth Shim M.D., the Luke & Grace Kim Professor in Cultural Psychiatry in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of California, Davis School of Medicine. Shim’s presentation will examine key concepts associated with structural racism and provide examples of how it manifests in our mental health care system.

Day two’s keynote speaker is Rochester attorney and vocalist Danielle Ponder, whose topic will address the economic cost of racism. The talk will examine the root of the racial wealth gap and how nonprofit players can move from gatekeepers of the status quo to radical agents of change.

Lenora Reid-Rose
Lenora Reid-Rose

“We recognize the challenges that people of color face daily due to race, equity and inclusion. Every day brings a new headline of an individual or a group subjected to some injustice,” said Lenora Reid-Rose, senior director of strategic initiatives and racial equity for CCSI. “We know at CCSI that in our community people of color face these inequities on a daily basis. We see disparate outcomes across all sectors of our community. We look on inequities in criminal justice, education, housing, employment, healthcare, finance, banking – the list doesn’t stop.”

Workshop topics include “How Individual Work Sets the Stage for Change — People of Color,” “How Individual Work Sets the Stage for Change — White People,” “The Power of Mindfulness in the Work of Racial Justice,” “Readying Your Organization to do the Work,” “Dismantling Racism at the Organizational Level: It Takes All of Us,” as well as two workshops on the community level.

Experts from within CCSI, including Carter, Reid-Rose and others, were involved in the planning and execution of the conference, working in tandem with partners from the community including the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, Rural and Migrant Ministry Inc., Rochester City School District and others who will lead the workshops, Carter noted.

“We’re targeting for-profits, but more so nonprofit partners who operate in the environment who are providing direct services to our population. We’re targeting schools, government, funders,” Reid-Rose said. “There’s something in there for everyone. There’s something for the individual, workshops that are geared toward the white individual and to the individual of color.”

Carter said CCSI examined its own internal systems and our practices related to racism, equity and inclusion prior to coordinating the event.

“I often use the phrase that we don’t want to be professional hypocrites. So we had to turn that lens internally to be able to look at how we’re functioning as an organization as well,” Carter said. “And through that process, we learned a lot through the work that we do and we want to share our journey, as well as continuing to grow with the larger part of the community. We’re really looking to share some of those challenges, as well as the learnings that we’ve had and how we’ve gotten through those. I think it will be an amazing opportunity for so many people.

The virtual event is $100 and registration is at

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
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Simon’s MBA program most diverse in nation

The Simon Business School at the University of Rochester has been named the most diverse MBA program in the U.S. by U.S. News & World Report.

“Diverse” is defined by the report as the percentage of African American, Black, Hispanic American and Native American students enrolled in the college’s full-time MBA program last year.

Simon’s full-time MBA class of 2022 has students from 19 different countries and 46 percent of domestic students are from historically underrepresented groups. Some 42 percent of full-time MBAs are women.

“I am proud to say that Simon’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion has been longstanding,” said Sevin Yeltekin, dean of the Simon Business School. “Simon has been a leader in this area dating back to the late ’60s when we were one of the first schools to join the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management, a group that promotes diversity among American businesses.”

Simon also has partnered with a number of other organizations that have helped move the school to the top spot in the rankings including Prospanica, Forte Foundation, Management Leadership for Tomorrow and ROMBA, among others.

“All of these partners have contributed greatly to the success at Simon,” Yeltekin said. “Business is growing more diverse and our graduates must understand how to harness the power of diversity to solve tomorrow’s challenges.”

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Urban League takes REJI under its wing

The Urban League of Rochester has been named the new steward and agency administrator for the Racial Equity and Justice Initiative (REJI). The program will be combined with the Urban League’s antiracist educational initiatives under the Interrupt Racism name as a primary focus of its newly-created Equity and Advocacy Division.

Dr. Seanelle Hawkins
Dr. Seanelle Hawkins

“The Urban League is an ideal fit for REJI because racial equity work is our primary mission, and a comprehensive education component like the one that REJI has developed will complement and enhance our Interrupt Racism initiative,” said Urban League President and CEO Seanelle Hawkins.

REJI is a community-wide initiative that addresses racism by building community capacity for racial equity and focusing on change at the individual, interpersonal, institutional and structural levels. Through St. Joseph’s Neighborhood Center, REJI has worked with more than 40 organizations and 400 leaders in the Rochester community across two cohorts in dismantling racism.

“We can think of no better organization to take over REJI than the Urban League,” said Sister Christine Wagner, executive director of SJNC.

She characterized the initiative’s work as “shining a light on the evil of structural racism.”

“It is with confidence that we put this important program in their hands,” Wagner said.

The Urban League plans to continue and build upon the legacy of the Sisters of St. Joseph. Both pre-existing REJI cohorts will receive ongoing support and resources from the Urban League, officials said.

“The need to continue this work is increasingly apparent, especially during the current climate, and we are so grateful to be handed the baton in stewarding REJI,” Hawkins said. “We are receiving more requests than ever from organizations to assist with tackling complex issues associated with all aspects of racism and creating spaces that demonstrate a more equitable Rochester.”

The Urban League has more than 55 years of advocacy and human service experience in the Greater Rochester area and will return to its roots in facilitating civil rights initiatives and actions in the creation of a distinct division centered on Equity and Advocacy.

To do so, the organization has named Kiah Nyame to head up the division as the Equity and Advocacy officer, a position that Hawkins likened to a “community DEI officer.” Nyame will also join the executive leadership team of the Urban League to augment the focus on equity in each of the more than 25 programs therein.

“The work of Interrupt Racism will build on the current foundation of REJI while also transforming it to utilize a holistic approach model that ensures all community stakeholders are heard and advocated for,” Nyame said.

Sashanna Mitchell, REJI’s program coordinator at SJNC, will continue in that capacity as the coordinator of Interrupt Racism. Applications to join the first Interrupt Racism cohort under Mitchell’s leadership will be available in April 2021.

“I am committed to this work, not just my individual job and program, but to real change, and I’m honored to continue it here at the Urban League,” Mitchell said. “The reason why I’m so committed is that I don’t want anyone else to go through what I have had to go through as a Black woman with respect to pay inequity, internalized racism and oppression and questioning my own worth. There are systems at play in Rochester that haven’t allowed me and other Black Rochesterians to live our best lives. When I realized that this struggle was by design, I committed myself to interrupting that process for my community. I won’t give up, and the Urban League won’t give up.”

Interrupt Racism began in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis in late May 2020 as the Urban League of Rochester’s response to the public outcry for racial justice and equity. In just three days, Interrupt Racism moved from conception to execution as a “community-wide suggestion box” and collective impact platform for racial inequities in Rochester, officials noted.

The Urban League developed Interrupt Racism into a racial equity educational initiative, culminating in the first-ever Interrupt Racism Summit on Oct. 20 and 21, 2020. This innovative virtual conference brought together seven keynote speakers, more than 30 presenters and workshop facilitators, and more than 500 attendees from across the country to interrupt racism.

“This is just the beginning of the equity and advocacy work we have envisioned for Rochester,” Hawkins said.

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
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Women’s Hall of Fame to induct six women posthumously

The National Women’s Hall of Fame in December will host a new program to showcase new inductees virtually.

Beginning Dec. 10, NWHF will present the “Virtual Induction Series,” honoring women posthumously who were deceased prior to the establishment of the Hall of Fame, overlooked in their lifetime or died before they were able to be inducted. The event will be free to the public.

NWHF will induct six women this year including:
• Mary Church Terrell, a suffragist and civil rights activist who died in 1954;
• Henrietta Lacks, a medical research revolutionizer who died in 1951;
• Toni Morrison, an author who died last year;
• Barbara Hillary, an adventurer, nurse and climate activist who died last year;
• Barbara Rose Johns Powell, an activist and librarian who died in 1991; and
• Aretha Franklin, a singer and activist who died in 2018.

“We begin this series of virtual posthumous inductions with six prominent Black women who have shaped our nation,” organizers said. “During the research process for this event, it became apparent that we as an organization lack diversity within our nomination pool. Noticeably, there is a lack of nominations of historic Black women and other women of color. We understand that this is a serious issue in outreach, openly acknowledge this shortcoming and are taking the steps to proactively make the necessary changes.”

The virtual induction series will begin to shed light on diverse women who have been instrumental in achieving accomplishments that continue to uplift all women, officials said. The organization’s goal is to continue to host virtual inductions of diverse groups of women who deserve recognition including Latinx, Asian, Native American, LGBTQ+ women and more Black women.

The virtual event will feature speakers such as Angela Davis, an author, activist and scholar who was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 2019 and will serve as NWHF inductee ambassador; Deborah Turner M.D., an OB-GYN who serves as president of the League of Women Voters and will take on the leader of ceremonies role; and Amanda Mena, a singer and America’s Got Talent semi-finalist as musical entertainment.

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
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SUNY to develop system-wide DEI plan

The State University of New York plans to develop a system-wide action plan to increase diversity, equity and inclusion at its schools.

SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras and the SUNY board of trustees have appointed Teresa Miller, SUNY’s senior vice chancellor of strategic initiatives and chief diversity officer, in collaboration with the SUNY Empire Shirley Chisholm Center for Equity Studies to develop an action plan by the end of January 2021 and to focus on concrete and implementable programs to increase diversity at SUNY’s 64 campuses.

“To build a more inclusive university system, we must collectively confront serious issues of discrimination, harassment and the marginalization of individuals in our community,” Malatras said in a statement Friday. “SUNY’s commitment to equal justice for all is unshakeable, but there is more work to be done. Now more than ever we need action and not just words.”

Malatras urged the SUNY community’s involvement in the development of its comprehensive action plan. SUNY students, faculty and staff will be asked to provide feedback and additional proposals.

The chancellor also recognized the actions taking place in its colleges and universities with the promotion of “64 Actions on 64 Campuses” taking place to lean into racial equity and justice.

“Shirley Chisholm said it best by imploring us to stop complaining on the sidelines and getting in the game to make progress by implementing ideas. This process will therefore be focused on listening and then acting, and I have great faith in Dr. Miller and the Shirley Chisholm Center for Equity Studies to develop a robust program,” Malatras said. “Since the Board of Trustees implemented a sweeping Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion policy, SUNY has made great progress toward becoming the most inclusive institution of higher education—and it serves as a strong foundation for what we need to do today to continue our pursuit to be a more equitable institution.”

SUNY’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion policy was approved by the board of trustees in 2015. SUNY Board Vice Chairman Cesar Perales and Trustees Marcos Crespo, Eunice Lewin, Stanley Litow and Camille Joseph Varlack will provide recommendations and be consulted as the final system-wide action plan is developed.

Goals for the diversity, equity and inclusion action plan include:

• Assessment of racial equity gaps across SUNY
• Curriculum development towards racial equity and literacy
• Review of the chief diversity officer’s role on every campus
• Increasing diversity:
-Hiring: administrators, faculty and professional staff
-College Council representation
• Prior learning and transfer credits, and
• Improving campus life:
-Expanded leadership institutes modeled off of the SUNY Hispanic Leadership Institute
-More inclusive clubs, and
-Increased access through seamless pathways, Early College High School and expanded Educational Opportunity Program

“As the nation’s largest comprehensive system of higher education, it is SUNY’s responsibility to lead in issues of diversity, equity and inclusion,” Miller said. “As we reflect on the racial inequities plaguing our nation, and the events of this past year, we re-dedicate ourselves — and take pride in — furthering our commitment to racial equity, equal access and opportunity.

“Our partnership with the Shirley Chisholm Center for Equity Studies and campus chief diversity officers, as well as engagement from the broader SUNY community, will help us start to forge the path forward to ensuring that students throughout our system from every walk of life are heard and represented as we work to achieve our goals of an increased diverse staff, closing racial equity gaps and improving the campus climate at each of our institutions.”

Last week, the SUNY community, including 1,300 — now more than 2,200 — people and Malatras, issued a statement on the importance of diversity training in opposition to the White House Executive Order prohibiting training on “divisive concepts.”

When Malatras was appointed, he asked the board for a 25 percent pay cut and to receive a salary of $450,000 and a $60,000 housing allowance. He has asked that the additional $170,000 be directed every year to the SUNY Educational Opportunity Program for underrepresented students and PRODiG program to increase faculty diversity across SUNY campuses.

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
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Racial Equity Challenge coming to Finger Lakes

Businesses and organizations in the Finger Lakes Region will have an opportunity to improve racial equity through a new initiative convened by the United Way of Greater Rochester Inc.

Greater Rochester’s 21-Day Racial Equity Challenge will begin Oct. 23 and end Nov. 20. Organizations can sign on to the free challenge beginning Oct. 6.

Originally developed by racial justice educators Eddie Moore Jr., Marguerite Penick-Parks and Debby Irving, the program has been embraced by a coalition of local leaders and is being adapted for the Finger Lakes Region.

Through broad community engagement, the 21-Day Racial Equity Challenge will increase awareness of critical issues and strengthen the community’s capacity to dismantle all forms of racism, officials said. Self-directed learning opportunities will encourage a deeper understanding of race, power, privilege and leadership.

The United Way in recent weeks has received a deluge of calls seeking support to help business and organization staff to better understand and support diversity, equity and inclusion. In fact, communities nationwide have issued 21-Day Racial Equity Challenges in an effort to broaden the discussion and understanding of racial equity.

As Rochester becomes more attuned to the problem of racial injustice, business leaders can leverage the interest and awareness of their employees to increase understanding and education around racial equity. The challenge will provide staffers with demonstrated tools and resources to learn and take action to support a more racially just workplace and community, officials said.

United Way is working with partner organizations that focus on racial equity including the Racial Equity Justice Initiative, Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative, YWCA of Rochester and Monroe County, Rochester Area Community Foundation and the Urban League of Rochester NY Inc. to shape the content of the challenge and the United Way will provide the backbone support.

More than 45 partners already have signed on based on initial conversations, officials said. Both the Rochester Business Journal and the Daily Record are partnering in the challenge.

The 21-Day Racial Equity Challenge is done through a daily email that will focus on a specific topic, with links to articles, videos and podcasts that will help participants expand their personal perspectives on equity along with information and links to local resources, initiatives and ways to turn education into action. A daily commitment of 10 to 15 minutes will be supplemented with virtual opportunities for group reflection and instructions for employers on initiating meaningful conversations within their organizations.

Organizations can sign up beginning Oct. 6 at

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
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Dean works dynamically to create more doctoral programs at RIT

Twyla J. Cummings has a big job ahead of her.

As associate provost and dean of graduate education at Rochester Institute of Technology, she’s tasked with changing the mindset of colleges at RIT so they can produce a lot more doctorate degrees.

Twyla Cummings
Twyla Cummings

In the next decade, Cummings aims to triple the number of doctoral students graduating from RIT. And within five years, RIT is aiming to roughly double its number of doctoral programs.

“In 10 years, we’d like to be conferring 100 (doctorates).  That will put us on a par with several of our peers, locally and regionally,” Cummings said recently. “It’s a big move for us. We haven’t been growing our doctoral programs at a very fast pace. After 30 years we have eight  programs.”

This isn’t just a numbers game, but a question of identity.

“We’re very focused on graduate education and research,” Cummings said. “If we’re going to grow in that space, we need more graduate students, and we need to provide more options for students who aren’t here to come here.”

Since the university established its first graduate degree program – in fine arts – in 1960 and its first doctoral program in 1991, it has created 78 master’s degree tracks, 17 graduate certificates and just eight doctoral programs. The last new doctorate program was created in 2014, she noted.

“We took a look at our peer institutions and we found that we really are lagging behind relative to doctoral degrees – the ones we offer and the number we confer each year,” Cummings said.

In order to reach the goal of adding six to 12 new doctoral programs by 2030, Cummings said, “we can’t do it the way we’ve always done it. We have to change our mindset. We have to have additional resources.”  And the college can take years to put together a doctoral program proposal for state approval.

So she’s hired a combination project manager and senior technical writer to work with faculty departments to get them organized and on track in creating new doctoral programs for approval by the state.

“We’re putting together a strategy where we do it in one year per program to get it to New York State, and sometimes we’ll do this concurrently,” Cummings said.

Previously the process took three or four years to create a program, partly because it always came last among faculty juggling various commitments, she said.

“The main thing is there’s been no one that’s tasked to do that. It’s a faculty role, and faculty have to teach, they have research, they have service, they supervise students and then on top of that, you’re going to ask them to shepherd and manage the whole process behind a Ph.D. proposal?”

She spent the last year getting buy-in on this accelerated schedule. That amounted to “getting the RIT community excited about this and not looking at this as work, as drudgery. This is a good thing. This is good for RIT,” she said.

Cummings said deans of the various RIT colleges have committed to increasing doctoral programs and graduates, and she has committed to getting funding for the increased number of students they’re seeking.

“They’ve made that commitment, which we didn’t really have before. It wasn’t time sensitive in the way it is now,” she said.

Colleagues who’ve worked with Cummings say she’s the person who can get this all to work – coordinating a single goal across different disciplinary departments, even without having a direct connection to their purse strings. She has only a handful of direct reports, yet is trying to coordinate graduate policies, new programs, curricula and fundraising across an institution with more than 4,000 employees and 19,000 students.

“She seems very good at building bridges between departments and people,” said Anthony Piazza, a Rochester attorney who she recruited to be on her advisory council. “It’s a big challenge for her. But I got the sense that she looked at it as an opportunity.”

Piazza said to Cummings after working with her at a day-long committee, “You could run a small city.”

Lorraine Justice, a professor in RIT’s College of Art and Design, used to be graduate dean for that college, and Cummings was her assistant dean initially.

“She was very honest but diplomatic and those are two qualities that are very hard to find sometimes, especially when things get complex or …difficult. Twyla would be very calm. She would think things through.  She would ask people’s opinions and help to resolve just about any issue that came up. She was just fabulous – still is,” Justice said.

Cummings, who worked in industry for nearly 20 years before coming to RIT, said higher education is one of the toughest jobs around.

“I work more evenings or weekends than I ever did in corporate America. During the day you’re teaching and don’t have time to grade papers and put together assignments, and answer email,” she said. “In addition to teaching, all faculty have commitments to do research” and end up doing that in the summer. “We’re all on too many committees at the university and in our field on industry associations, outside of RIT to support our discipline.”

Nevertheless, Cummings says of her second career: “It’s rewarding; I have to say it’s very fulfilling.”

Born on Long Island to a teen-age mother, Cummings spent her childhood and young adulthood in Ohio. After completing a degree in chemistry at Wright State University, she got a job as an ink scientist for Mead Corp. in Dayton, Ohio. (She earned her other degrees while working.) The company was renamed and became a division of Kodak, then was sold and recently was bought back again as ink-jet printing became a primary business line for Kodak.

When Kodak transferred her husband, Thomas, to Rochester not long after the couple married, they spent four years in a commuter marriage. Eventually, Cummings followed her spouse to Rochester, expecting to take a year to find her next job. But before that year was up, she was teaching project management at RIT as an adjunct professor. She expected to find a full-time job in industry in the day, while teaching at night.

But not too long after that, RIT offered Cummings a tenure-track, full-time job, recognizing her practical expertise in the field.

“Surprisingly, I liked it a lot. It was definitely a career change. And 22 years later I’m still here,” she said.

Though the teaching offer got her through the door, she says she still had to earn tenure the way any other academic does, and if she hadn’t, she would have been gone.

About halfway through those years at RIT, Cummings started easing into administration while still teaching.

“When I had the opportunity to — in addition to teaching responsibilities — become a graduate program director, which was an administrative role, I liked it. I was supposed to do it for 18 months, and I ended up doing it for eight years,” Cummings said. The graduate program director job led to becoming assistant dean and then associate graduate dean in the College of Art and Design before the university-level equivalent opened up.

“I always know when it’s time for me to do something different,” she said. Justice said she also encouraged Cummings to apply for the university-level job, noting her aptitude for administration.

“She’s a great decision maker,” Justice said. “She earns a lot of respect. She’s inclusive. She’s very analytical. She can calmly deliberate through anything.” That includes curriculum issues and tricky personnel squabbles, Justice said.

In Cummings’ current role, she has worked diligently to create greater engagement with RIT for graduates of its alumni programs. Many of the people who get graduate degrees at RIT are not from the area and did not attend undergraduate school here, she noted, so they don’t have as strong a tie to the university as undergrads do.

Part of her strategy was developing an advisory council, including graduate alumni, and establishing a place to share research at campus events. She also oversaw a two-year study on advising and support for graduate students at RIT.

“Graduate students don’t need the same type of advising as undergraduate students. They all need faculty advisors and they all have that. If they have a research component to their degree, they need a research advisor,” Cummings said. But some colleges are lacking logistical and administrative support for their programs, she said, so her office is working to improve that.

Cummings has been working to secure funding for more graduate students. She asked a sponsor of a graduate showcase event to sponsor a scholarship. He provided 10 times what she requested, allowing low-income students from Rochester to reach graduate school.

But she also walks the walk. Cummings and her husband donated $50,000 to create a scholarship for students of African, Asian, Latino or Native American heritage who want to obtain a graduate degree.

“Graduate education did not have (fundraising) goals and they did not have anyone assigned to them until I got in this role,” Cummings said.

She has at least one other goal that she’s already shared with RIT’s leadership: “I am putting together a proposal for the office of graduate education to become either the school or the college of graduate education.” Why? “I think that is the future.  It allows us to be more supportive to the university. It aligns us more with our peer institutions. We look more like other universities.”

[email protected]/ (585) 363-7275


Twyla J. Cummings

Position: Associate provost and dean of graduate education at Rochester Institute of Technology

Education: Bachelor’s degree in chemistry, Wright State University, Dayton, 1979; master’s degree in business and industrial counseling management, Wright State, 1987; doctorate in business management, Union Institute & University, Cincinnati

Residence: Penfield

Family: husband Thomas Cummings; two grown stepchildren, Patrick Cummings and Andrea Moore; one granddaughter

Hobbies: reading, golf, interior design, travel

Quote: “We’re very focused on graduate education and research. If we’re going to grow in that space, we need more graduate students, and we need to provide more options for students who aren’t here to come here.”

Students get boost in job, internship searches at RIT job fairs

If there’s any doubt that Rochester Institute of Technology is still career-oriented, that doubt would evaporate quickly at one of the university’s job fairs.

The second of two career fairs for all majors this year was held last week, drawing some 5,000 students looking for co-op jobs or internships now or full-time employment once they graduate. Approximately 800 recruiters were on hand, representing 240 companies. 

The undertaking is so massive, students have to consult an app to find their way to the booths for company representatives they’re seeking out.  

The flip side of this massive fair, however, took place the day before at the much smaller Affinity Reception. Here, in a reverse image of the larger job fair, students from diverse backgrounds staffed the information tables, and it was the recruiters who milled about and called upon them. The reception was set up on a balcony overlooking the Gordon Field House’s arena that would house the big fair the next day.  

Numbers were much smaller at this reception. Just 43 students formally registered (organizers assumed others just walked in) to participate, and 52 recruiters, representing 30 companies, showed up to talk to them, often singling out students for an impromptu interview. 

“It’s a lot more intimate,” said Isabella Totino, a second-year computer science student from Boston. She was one of the students at the Women in Computing table. 

 At each of a handful of stations was a student group or university program. They included the Women in Engineering group, RIT chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers and the local chapter of the Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers.  

As companies realize diversity is a good thing, a job fair like this one allows them a chance to improve their labor pool.  

“I don’t think you can ever have enough diversity, no matter how good your metrics are,” said Diana Solt, an RIT alumna who was on campus to recruit for her employer, L3Harris.

 “Though Totino had already secured summer employment, she said the fairs and working with the Women in Computing club give her a chance to make connections. Recruiters seemed genuinely interested in hiring diverse candidates. 

“I feel they do feel a need in the computer industry,” Totino said. “They know they’re not reaching their full potential.”

Solt, in strategy development at L3Harris, was hoping to secure perhaps 40 interns and 50 new graduates for permanent jobs.   

“We’re coming for perspectives — different thoughts on how to solve the world’s biggest problems, she said.

 At the big job fair the next day, Solt expected to talk to more than 300 students. But at the decidedly more chill Affinity Reception, she was able to have in-depth conversations with job candidates without the din of thousands of others talking around them.  

 Since the merger of Harris and L3 in 2019, L3Harris has been growing, said Chandler Kozyra, who handles university relations for communication systems at the company. The merger has opened up opportunities for new contracts, causing the company to need to bring on people quickly who can grow with the new demands. The defense contractor employs approximately 55,000 worldwide, he said, and about 3,800 in Rochester.   

RIT students and graduates make excellent hires, Solt said, because of their background in STEM fields, the applied skills they gain through their education there, and their co-op experiences. 

“It’s unbelievable,” she said. RIT students are “so talented, so smart, so ambitious.”

Maria Richart, director of career services and cooperative education at RIT, said the university offers seven job fairs each year, with some tailored to specific disciplines. Fairs are organized specifically for packaging, civil engineering, creative arts and academic and job opportunities abroad. The university also hosts talks, presentations and other special events aimed at connecting students with employers or preparing the student to start looking for a job. 

Earlier this week, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and Proctor & Gamble were scheduled to make presentations. Tesla was looking to interview students in three specific majors for potential work, and a fair aimed at preparing creative arts students to seek employment were all scheduled.

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County legislator calls for investigation of College at Brockport

Monroe County Legislator Vincent Felder
Monroe County Legislator Vincent Felder

County Legislator Vincent R. Felder, a graduate of the College at Brockport, has asked the chancellor of the SUNY system to investigate his alma mater because of recent conflicts over diversity. 

In a Feb. 18 letter to SUNY Chancellor Kristina Johnson, Felder stated his concern over the firing of Chief Diversity Officer Cephas Archie in January; the subsequent departure of  Sandra Vazquez, diversity recruitment and retention specialist; and the federal discrimination complaint filed against the college by Vicki Elsenheimer, administrative assistant to the vice president for advancement. 

He also noted the college’s attempt to investigate anonymous charges against Archie after he was fired, which College President Heidi MacPherson ordered stopped once the investigation was made public. 

“The combination of these events in such a short period of time lead to a simple conclusion: Something is wrong at SUNY Brockport,” Felder wrote. 

Johnson last week appointed SUNY Oswego’s chief diversity officer to work with Brockport at least through the end of the semester.

Felder graduated from Brockport in the early 2000s and has remained involved with the college since, he said. He was a member of Brockport’s Organization for Students of African Descent, and president of the student government. 

Given his perspective, Felder said, he was troubled by recent events, but not surprised. In fact, he said, it fits a pattern that has been repeated in the past of making some progress on racial issues and then letting advances slip. 

“The diversity issue at SUNY Brockport must be treated as the crisis it has proven to be and must be dealt with in a way that produces sustainable and verifiable results,” Felder said. He suggested reinstatement of Archie as one possible result. 

Felder also offered to meet with the chancellor when she visits campus.

The college has declined to be specific about Archie’s dismissal, but Archie has said he was told he was being fired over “performance issues” that weren’t specified.  
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Diversity a key goal of healthcare education programs in Rochester

Local healthcare education programs make inroads on diversity.

When it comes to diversity in higher education programs for healthcare, two local institutions have made the grade nationally.

Insight into Diversity magazine gives awards each year to the higher education institutions across the country with the best track records for diversity in their professional healthcare programs. While the University of Rochester’s School of Nursing has won this award for some years running, this year the UR School of Medicine and Dentistry won for the first time, and the College at Brockport’s School of Nursing won for the first time, too.

These three programs were among the 43 nationally that won Healthcare Professions Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED for short) awards from the magazine.

(Insights into Diversity also offers a general diversity award for higher education institutions, and Rochester Institute of Technology was one of 96 winners of that award.)

The awards reflect an institutional commitment to diversity that has been building for years or has recently been amplified. In some cases, the programs feature diversity initiatives similar to those at other schools, including some in the Rochester area, but it appears that a cumulative effort put them over the top.

Adrienne Morgan
Adrienne Morgan

UR “has been committed to increasing our diversity pool and our outreach for decades,” said Adrienne Morgan, assistant dean for medical education, diversity and inclusion at the UR School of Medicine and Dentistry.

For example, Morgan described a grant program UR participates in that starts recruiting minority and low-income students to science and health majors starting in middle school, with four-week summer intensives.

“That’s where you’re really starting to build your foundation, academically,” Morgan said. “It’s a great entry point for students to begin, hone their skills (and) understand what’s needed to be a researcher, physician, physician assistant (or) nurse practitioner.” While students as young as middle school know about doctors and nurses, they may not be familiar with some of the other professions within healthcare, she said.

It’s important to reach students that young, noted Margaret Kaminsky, dean of STEM and health at Monroe Community College, which also participates in the Science and Technology Entry Program that Morgan described.

“Choices made in middle school are going to determine how far a student can get in math and science through high school,” Kaminsky said. If a student doesn’t take accelerated math at the middle school level, that may prevent them for taking higher math, chemistry and physics later on, all prerequisites to healthcare degree programs.

Morgan recalled one STEP student at UR who shared that the program helped him realize how much he’d have to up his game academically to reach his newly formed goals. He went on to get a science degree in college and a job with NASA. He’s now pursuing a doctorate in a science field outside of medicine.

“Everybody who does the program isn’t necessarily going to enter the medical field,” Morgan said. “But everything they learn can be used in other professions as well.”

UR follows up with a research internship program for high school students that includes shadowing emergency room professionals, group journaling exercises, work in anatomy labs and other opportunities.

“We try to make them understand the steps they’ll need” to purse a degree in healthcare, Morgan said. “Many students who do the (summer) program end up being our students.”

Three key programs at the College at Brockport that helped the nursing program win diversity kudos:

  • Conducting an annual poverty simulation for students, an exercise in which participants are given a limited amount of income and resources and must use them to obtain basic needs in a prescribed amount of time.
  • Reverse role-playing with deaf actors. Nursing students play the patients who cannot use spoken language to communicate, and deaf actors and sign language interpreters play the caregiving roles. (Similar exercises are conducted at other local schools.)
  • Two-week clinical intensives in Costa Rica and Peru during school vacations, allowing students opportunities to study abroad and experience a different culture that their schedules would normally prevent.
Kathy Peterson
Kathy Peterson

All of these programs help sheltered students learn about different perspectives. Of the clinics abroad, Kathy Peterson, chairwoman of the nursing department at Brockport, said, “It really has changed more of their outlook on life, and what we have. It’s been life changing for many of them, and for our faculty.”

Students participating in the role-playing exercise really begin to empathize with the Rochester area’s deaf population, she said, and the poverty simulation teaches them how much hard work it takes to live in poverty.

Brockport, UR and MCC all described a somewhat diverse population of students, with an increasing number of male students entering nursing programs over the last couple of decades. Morgan said UR’s medical school and even nursing school generations ago used to attract mostly well-to-do students

“People are coming from all walks of life now to medicine,” Morgan said. “It’s not like it’s the family business anymore.”

Peterson said Brockport has always attracted more of a middle-class student body, but when she started teaching there 35 years ago, the freshman nursing class typically would have been comprised of 60 white female students.  Today’s class of pre-licensure nursing students at Brockport is about 14.6 percent minority and 16.2 percent male.

MCC’s Kaminsky didn’t have similar figures at her fingertips, but she noted that for some years when she taught basic chemistry, a prerequisite for healthcare majors, about half the students were minorities.

Keeping a diverse student body in school long enough to graduate can be a challenge because of income differences or other barriers.

“We have found — and this is national — that we do lose a higher proportion of our diverse students than our white students,” Peterson said. “We are actively looking at that and trying to support those diverse students with more engagement and more assistance.”

MCC participates in another grant program that provides funding for special programs for diverse healthcare students such as mentoring. It even offers small grants that can help them with expenses that could be roadblocks to their success. Kaminsky said she has approved grants for the $800 textbook that radiology technology students need and even for as little as $10 for printing so a student could print out course materials.

The growing number of healthcare students who are not white and female might find their gender or ethnicity presents an issue for patients.

Philip Phommala, a nursing student at MCC who is Laotian-American, said he hasn’t experienced racial discrimination, but he has been asked to switch out with a female nursing student when working with some patients. It’s usually the patient’s family members, rather than the patient themselves, that makes the request, he said.

“I try not to take it too hard. I do expect to have that happen from time to time,” Phommala said.

A men’s league for male nursing students at MCC provides a place for him to talk over issues like that.

Kaminsky, who has only been the dean over healthcare programs at MCC since August, said she has observed instructors tell students these issues are likely to come up in the context of sensitive issues, such as changing a catheter, and students should be prepared for it, and include a second nurse in the room.

And Peterson has heard reports — albeit rare — including a male cancer patient who didn’t want to be cared for by a male nursing student because he assumed male nurses would be homosexual. Yet she also heard a report from the maternity unit where both mother and father wore confederate flag clothing yet didn’t raise an issue with a black student nurse or black nursing instructor who attended them.

UR includes discussions about patient push-back in its classes, Morgan said, as such events can take a toll on students and professionals in the field, causing what she called “moral distress” over time. They practice coming up with responses to such patient requests, she said.

“Depending on who you are, it can happen on a daily basis,” Morgan said.  Whether hospitals should comply, and in what circumstances, with patient’s objections to being treated by healthcare professionals of different demographics is part of an ongoing national discussion, she said.

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UR names vice president for equity and inclusion

The University of Rochester has appointed its first vice president for equity and inclusion.

Mercedes Ramírez Fernández will join the staff July 1, coming from Virginia Tech, where she has been associate vice provost for strategic affairs and diversity. Her selection is the culmination of a national search that began last fall.

Mercedes Ramírez Fernández . Photo supplied by the University of Rochester
Mercedes Ramírez Fernández  (University of Rochester)

The position includes leading the university’s new Office of Equity and Inclusion and working with deans, other senior leaders and campus constituencies to establish and carry out a diversity strategic plan for the institution.

UR President Richard Feldman, who served as chair of the search committee, said, “I am confident Mercedes Ramírez Fernández is the right person to lead these efforts and our new central office dedicated to building meaningful progress in these areas.  I’m thrilled she has accepted the role and know that she’s ready to work with staff, faculty and students to cultivate and embrace a more inclusive, equitable, accessible and diverse university environment on many fronts.”

The new position has been endowed with donations and named the Richard Feldman Vice President for Equity and Inclusion, honoring the president who is stepping down next month.

UR’s incoming president, Sarah C. Mangelsdorf, also had input into Fernández’s selection.

“Mercedes and I were colleagues a number of years ago at the University of Illinois, and I am delighted that we will be colleagues again at the University of Rochester,” said Mangelsdorf. “I know she will bring passion, experience, and dedication to the important work of creating the new Office of Equity and Inclusion. I look forward to supporting her efforts in every way I can.”

Fernández earned a doctorate in higher education management from the University of Pennsylvania, a master’s degree in counseling from the University of Iowa, and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez.

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FLCC looking for diverse job applicants

In an attempt to better reflect the diversity of students who attend Finger Lakes Community College, the Ontario County college has scheduled a recruitment day to attract new hires.

FLCC Diversity Recruitment Day is scheduled from 1 to 3 p.m. April 19 at the college’s main campus, 3325 Marvin Sands Drive in Hopewell, near Canandaigua.

“This is a workforce initiative event, focused on highlighting the full spectrum of professional opportunities at the college and in the surrounding Ontario County community to diverse constituents,” said Sim Covington, FLCC’s chief diversity officer.

Sim Covington, chief diversity officer at Finger Lakes Community College
Sim Covington

“It is important that the people who work at FLCC, whether faculty, staff or administrators, share our students’ backgrounds and experiences. We want people with diverse backgrounds to consider FLCC and Ontario County as well,” Covington said.

He described diversity as including individual differences, such as personality and life experience, and group or social differences, such as race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, language and physical ability.

About 17 percent of FLCC students are people of color, and a rising number indicate heritage of two or more races, the college reported. The student body also includes at least 150 military veterans.

Participants in the recruitment day are asked to register online ahead of time, which will make them eligible for job alerts tailored to their qualifications. Covington is available to answer questions about recruitment by contacting him at (585) 785-1790 or [email protected].

The college has nearly 6,000 students, and campuses in several locations in Ontario County, including Victor and Geneva.

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RIT-led study says GRE in physics is biased

Graduate schools’ reliance on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) in physics as a gateway exam might be helping to shut women and minorities out of doctoral programs, according to a statistical analysis led by scientists at Rochester Institute of Technology. And the test isn’t a good predictor of success anyway. 

The study was reported in the Jan. 23 edition of the journal Science Advances.

Lead investigator Casey Miller, a professor and associate dean for research and faculty at RIT, said the study revealed that scores on the GRE for physics are not a good predictor of which students will complete the Ph.D. degree program. The researchers reached that conclusion after looking at results of one in eight people accepted into physics Ph.D. programs across the country over the course of a decade in the largest study ever to examine the correlation between admission requirements and graduation from graduate programs. 

Minorities and women typically score lower on the GRE than white men do, even though they perform on par in other measurements of performance.  

“That’s a big deal because the test is used in a large fraction of the Ph.D. programs in the U.S.,” Miller said. “When you use a minimum acceptable score on a tool that has race and gender-based differences, the outcome is fewer women of all races and underrepresented minorities of all gender identities get into Ph.D. programs.”

Casey Miller, professor and associate dean of research and faculty at RIT.
Casey Miller, professor and associate dean of research and faculty at RIT.

The study, which was also supported by researchers at the University of Southern California and by the national Science Foundation and the American Physical Society, noted that effective tools to predict who will finish a doctorate in physics already exist: ranking in graduate school and grade point average in undergraduate school.

Miller’s colleague at RIT, assistant professor Benjamin M. Zwickl, said different groups may fare differently on the GRE because it measures only a slice of a candidate’s strengths.

“Graduate students are advancing in cutting edge science on projects that last several years. GRE exams are filled with problems that take one minute,” Zwickl said. “They test very narrow slices of competency.”

National data indicates fewer than 5 percent of physics Ph.D.s are awarded each year to people who are African American, Latino or Native American, while 20 percent go to women. The study noted that other factors could also be contributing to underrepresentation of these groups, but physics is the least diverse of the sciences.

The researchers urge graduate programs to discontinue using a minimum score on the GRE as an admission requirement.

Zwickl said diversity may also be helped by a change in emphasis from admission to training.

“For me, one of the takeaways is there are a lot of things that contribute to a student’s success. Some are in the control of the student  — how they apply themselves, but some are controlled by program,” Zwickl said. Programs need to change the question from “How do we select the best to how do we train the best?” he said.

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