Maryam Kamran has joined the College of Natural Resources and Environment as its new director of inclusion and diversity. Her hiring reflects the college’s commitment to fostering greater representation in the fields of natural and environmental sciences.

“For a program that values ecological diversity and understands the strength, resilience, and beauty of diversity in the natural world, we have an opportunity to take the lead in embracing diversity and inclusion,” said Paul Winistorfer, dean of the college. “We are excited to have Dr. Kamran contribute to that effort.”

Kamran is tasked with leading inclusion and diversity initiatives within the college, while teaching courses that examine identity and equity through the lens of natural resources and the environment. She serves as a member the dean’s leadership team and will work on initiatives across the college’s four departments.

Kamran comes to Virginia Tech from Oregon State University, where she conducted postdoctoral research on the homing techniques of hatchery-raised salmon. The role required Kamran to do outreach in local communities, fostering relationships between state and federal agencies, indigenous communities, local fishermen, and the broader public.

“The nature of my research work has sometimes taken me to places where I am the only person of color in the room,” Kamran said. “It is an isolating experience, regardless of your level of expertise, and I’ve worked hard to be an advocate for other underrepresented people working in our field.”

Kamran earned her doctorate in biological sciences from Bowling Green State University, where she served on the President’s Advisory Council on Diversity and Inclusion to help improve the recruitment and retention of underrepresented students. She was later selected as president of the Graduate Student Senate and worked to identify barriers for successful recruitment and retention of faculty and students of color.

“I’ve always done a lot of outreach and inclusion work outside of my research, and my mentors have been incredibly supportive of that work, but I always expected it to be a side project,” Kamran said. “When I heard about this position at Virginia Tech, I was excited that a university would dedicate a space in our field for someone to work directly on the challenges of diversity and inclusion.”

Kamran said that while the departments within the College of Natural Resources and Environment have specific challenges when it comes to diversifying, they share common solutions.

“The fundamentals are the same,” she explained. “You have to establish and maintain a pipeline. You need to actively recruit students and faculty and staff from different backgrounds. And you need to have an appropriate infrastructure in place that will support those individuals.”

Kamran said that good intentions are important, but positive change will come when those intentions are matched by actions. To that end, she said that training faculty and staff to be aware of the challenges that nontraditional students face and better equipped to reach out a helping hand is crucial to retention.

“A further challenge is where students end up,” she said. “It’s great to say that we’d like a diverse student population, but if the workforce or industry isn’t equipped to take on students from different backgrounds, we don’t want to funnel students there. So we have a task of asking our departments to make sure that their partners on the other side are ready to hire our students.”

Winistorfer noted that Kamran’s background as a researcher gives her a unique perspective on the challenges of bringing students from a range of backgrounds to the college.

“Dr. Kamran was trained as a scientist first, and she understands the science behind the disciplines of the college,” he said. “She will bring a strong foundation and understanding to her work as she aspires to make a significant contribution in advancing inclusion and diversity in the college.”

— Written by David Fleming

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