Western’s campus is covered in snow and ice. Temperatures hover near the single digits at WMU while alumna Kathleen Quardokus Fisher strolls across the campus of Florida International University in the 80 degree sunshine of Miami, Florida. Would she rather be back up north for the start of Spring semester 2017? Dr. Quardokus Fisher says “No”. She’s happy with a tenure track position at FIU, Miami’s first and only public research university. FIU was recently designated a tier 1 research university; so her NSF grant to pursue a new diversity mentoring program gives Quardokus Fisher the ideal environment to grow as a scholar. As Assistant Professor she has a 50% appointment in the Department of Earth and Environment and a 50% appointment in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Technology (STEM) Transformation Institute.
Her field of scientific expertise is atmospheric science, but her current emphasis is the GEO Opportunities for Leadership in Diversity (GOLD): Hearts of GOLD. The result of an Ideas Lab Activity, it is an NSF-funded project using the influence of top geoscientists to create champions for diversity. Mentoring is crucial in supporting underrepresented minority students in the sciences during the doctoral effort and through to a tenure track or other research position. As a graduate of three universities, Quardokus Fisher understands the importance of mentoring. She got her Bachelor of Science in Meteorology and Mathematics in 2005 and a Master of Education at Valparaiso University in 2007. During this same time period she taught mathematics and the sciences to high school students in Chicago, IL and later in Benton Harbor, MI. In 2010 she received an M.S. in Atmospheric Science from Purdue with a thesis designing and evaluating an undergraduate laboratory course in atmospheric science research. This led, rather naturally, to a contact with Dr. Charles Henderson at Western Michigan University’s Mallinson Institute for Science Education. Focusing on instructional change in higher education, Quardokus Fisher dissertation is titled “Instructional change in academic departments: An analysis from the perspective of two environment-focused change strategies.” Mallinson Institute for Science Education, named for Dr. George Mallinson, pioneer in the field of science education and the founding dean of the Graduate College at WMU, prepares undergraduate pre-service teachers to be science educators. At the graduate level, MISE prepares researchers to learn about teaching science and how students learn about science. Quardokus Fisher’s main interest at WMU was exploring how an institution of higher education can support faculty in teaching about science through an examination of how social networks can be used to enhance faculty’s learning about teaching. When asked if this includes social media, she explained, “It’s about who talks to whom about what.” Using ORA Social Network Software to analyze the structure of conversations between members of formal and informal social networks, Quardokus Fisher and Henderson determined if teaching and learning were being discussed. By doing so, the two scholars have been able to better understand the hidden structure of academic departments as well as facilitate faculty learning communities. After receiving her Ph.D. from WMU in 2014, Quardokus Fisher spent two years at Oregon State University doing post-doctoral study with mentors Milo Koretsky and Jana Bouwma-Gearhart on a project titled Enhancing Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Education at Oregon State University (ESTEME@OSU). In 2015 she and Henderson co-authored one article in the leading international journal in higher education studies, Higher Education, “Promoting Instructional Change: Using Social Network Analysis to Understand the Hidden Structure of Academic Departments”. Another article under review is titled “Department-Level Instructional Change: Comparing Prescribed vs. Emergent Strategies”. She has presented and published with numerous conferences, including, most recently, the American Society of Engineering Education Annual Conference, the National Association for Research in Science Teaching Annual Meeting, and the 19th Symposium on Education of the American Meteorological Association. Most importantly, she has landed not only a tenure track position at an R1 university, but an important grant from the National Science Foundation. She is actively engaged in developing mentorship circles and building diversity in the geosciences, which will trickle down to high schools like the ones in which she started teaching a dozen years ago. By working at the institutional level to build programs encouraging minority scholars at the highest level, she is influencing young people by developing mentors who can inspire them to pursue academic or research careers in the sciences.