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Diverse Leaders in Academia



Design Research / Strategy ​



Senior Design Strategist

Siebel Center for Design


University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

How might we support women at every point of their journey to leadership in acamemia?

My team at the Siebel Center for Design (SCD) was asked to take a human-centered approach to explore and develop a strategy for competitive applications to diversity-focused grant programs such as NSF ADVANCE. The project would assist the Office of the Vice-Chancellor of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in identifying key opportunity areas for refining future grant proposals by exploring and understanding the current landscape at UIUC and comparable institutions.

my role

I led a team with a fellow Design Strategist and 3 student interns in conducting human-centered design research with current, future, and previous faculty. From there, we reviewed and extracted meaning from our findings, synthesized insights, and presented opportunity areas to OVCDEI at the conclusion of the project.  The scope of this project all took place during social distancing measures for COVID-19. Our team led the entirety of our interviews and co-creation sessions over Zoom with faculty members and other key stakeholders. These individuals included those who identified as women across intersectional identities and the spectrum of points along the higher ed career path, along with some allies within the space that the primary experience group recommended. We used our insights from their processes of becoming leaders on campus and key insights from our user research to create a set of visual frameworks summarizing findings from key stakeholders, outlining existing and emergent behaviors, and unmet needs.

our response

Our team created journey maps and identified opportunity areas for design. We created a presentation with recommendations for concept strategy and development on how to implement these opportunity areas for design to envision a more supported journey to finding jobs at the university that provided structure around every aspect of a woman's identity. These recommendations build a more diverse university system and ultimately a competitive grant-winning strategy.

For individuals to be as candid about their experience as possible, trust was crucial, so personal connections were leveraged. We discovered that although academia and tenure are beasts, there were some things we could start working on right away. How might we identify opportunities for diversity-focused leadership pathways for women at Illinois? Things such as emphasizing the importance of mentors and sponsors that model holistic support, avoiding imposter syndrome by promoting a sense of belonging, and addressing competition and decentralization at the University by promoting collaboration for innovative research instead.


Recommendations created from these insights included implementing 360 Evaluations + Facilitated Reviews, creating an OVCDEI Fellows program to demystify the process of academia, and building UIUCollab.

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