AUGUST 18, 2020 — UTSA cognitive neuroscientist Nicole Wicha has been selected to participate in a national leadership program for faculty members in the STEM fields. Wicha has received a fellowship from the Aspire Alliance and UTSA to participate in the second cohort of the IAspire Leadership Academy. IAspire aims to help STEM faculty from underrepresented backgrounds ascend to leadership roles at institutions of higher learning.
Wicha is the director of the UTSA Laboratory for Brain, Language and Cognition and a member of the graduate faculty in neurobiology. She joined the faculty in 2005, adding unique interdisciplinary expertise in the neurobiology of human language and math cognition, with a special focus on the bilingual brain.
She is an affiliate of the UTSA Neurosciences Institute and the UTSA Brain Health Consortium, which are made up of experts across multiple disciplines dedicated to conquering the mysteries of the brain. She is also an alumna of UTSA, where she earned bachelor’s degrees in psychology and Spanish in 1993.
The IAspire Leadership Academy, part of the Aspire Alliance’s Institutional Change Initiative, provides professional development to mid-career individuals from traditionally underrepresented groups who are interested in serving in college or university leadership roles in STEM fields. Fellows learn effective executive leadership skills for increasingly complex higher education environments as well as strategies for influencing institutional transformation in their current and future leadership positions.
“Dr. Wicha is an innovative educator and researcher who on a daily basis leads within the field of neuroscience and in her department and college. At the same time UTSA is committed to building a more diverse faculty to better serve its unique student population,” said David Silva, dean of the College of Sciences. “By participating in the IAspire Leadership Academy, Dr. Wicha will have the opportunity to develop the knowledge and skills she needs to make impactful, long-term change in the diversity of our STEM faculty.”
Over the past 15 years Wicha has mentored more than 65 undergraduate, master’s and doctoral students in her laboratory, where her research focuses on understanding how the brain processes language and how language experience affects other cognitive abilities, using behavioral and brain imaging techniques.
She has also served as a mentor for several early stage investigators. Her current research on how bilingual children use arithmetic in each of their languages is funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
“Diversity programs like Aspire Alliance have supported the growth and success of my career as a Latina scientist since my undergraduate years at UTSA. I am excited to have this opportunity to strengthen my leadership skills in order to promote the success of a new generation of diverse STEM scientists,” said Wicha. “I take the lead from advocates for diversity in STEM, including Joe L. Martinez, past Ewing Halsell Distinguished Chair at UTSA.”
She added, “It has been difficult to witness the minimal gains in the diversity of STEM researchers over the last 30 years. As a Hispanic Serving Institution, UTSA has a responsibility to become a model of diversity across the institution. The IAspire Leadership Academy is helping move the needle toward increasing diversity in STEM at UTSA and beyond.”
Kelly Nash, professor of physics and associate dean for faculty affairs in the College of Sciences at UTSA, was a member of the first cohort of IAspire.
“The IAspire Leadership Academy has helped me refine my leadership style through action projects and peer mentoring. I believe this program will have an indelible impact on my future leadership journey,” said Nash.
IAspire Leadership participants are selected through a competitive, blind, holistic review of their applications.
“The second cohort of IAspire Leadership Academy fellows represent a broad diversity of STEM fields and leadership experiences across higher education sectors,” said Howard Gobstein, director of the Aspire Alliance and executive vice president at the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, which is leading the Aspire Alliance’s Institutional Change Initiative with the University of Georgia. “More inclusive college and university cultures require diversity in faculty and university leadership, and this academy helps to support the next generation of university faculty and leaders.”
The IAspire Leadership Academy is one pillar of the diversity and inclusion work underway through the Aspire Alliance, formally known as The National Alliance for Inclusive & Diverse STEM Faculty.
The National Science Foundation–funded alliance is working across postsecondary institutions focused on cultivating inclusive teaching practices and diversifying faculty to develop more inclusive institutional cultures supporting the access and success of all undergraduate STEM students, especially those from underrepresented groups.
Last year UTSA became one of 15 public research universities selected to participate in Aspire. The inaugural, three-year institutional change effort is helping the university reform its recruitment, hiring and retention practices to achieve a more diverse faculty, which advances its institutional goals.
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