Posts (12)

Apr 17, 2016 · Moving Towards Equity in Medicine

By: Domenic Fraboni and Crystal Mendoza

April 13th was Equal Pay Day. At a panel discussion, Women in Science and Medicine: Moving Toward Equity in Career and Professional Development sponsored by the Office for Diversity, we learned that Equal Pay Day represents the day that women needed to work until in 2016 (added to their 2015 salary) to earn what their male counterparts earned during the 2015 calendar year. This discussion, led by a panel of Mayo physician and scientists, was tackling this exact issue and its prominence in the medial and science fields.

Guest moderator, Sharonne Hayes, M.D., began the discussion by outlining concerning statistics that represent the current inequality in medical career advancement between sexes.  To begin, Dr. Hayes pointed out that no women were nominated in 2014 or 2015 for the Mayo Clinic Distinguished Investigator award.  Furthermore, the winners of the award since the 1980’s have been comprised of 96% men.  The familial status of those employees also varies greatly between men and women.  Of those employees seeking to further their career in medicine, 25% of women were single without children whereas only 9% of men shared that same status.  A much higher percentage of men were currently married with children, perhaps suggesting that men are easier able to “have it all.”  Dr. Hayes said that gone are the times when a man can work 60-70 hours a week in their medical profession while his wife stays home as the primary care-giver to their children.  At Mayo Clinic, what can we do to work toward equal opportunity in health profession careers?

The panel consisted of both physicians and scientists:

  • Karen Hedin, Ph.D.- Professor in Immunology
  • Kay Pepin, Ph.D. – Radiation Oncology
  • Jim Maher, Ph.D. – Dean of Mayo Graduate School/ Professor of Biochemistry
  • Sumedha Penheiter, Ph.D.  – Office of Health Disparities
  • Jay-Sheree Allen, M.D. – Family Medicine

Many seek the answer in the “career pipeline.”  This pipeline is supposed to help streamline motivated women into successful careers in medicine.  The pipeline method helps provide opportunities to deserving women to enter programs such as medical education, research, and leadership development.  Maybe most importantly, the pipeline is meant to help find good female mentors for young women looking to advance their career.  Shortly after outlining the pipeline, Dr. Hayes pointed out issues with relying on this strategy.  Women still are the ones that carry and give birth to our children.  Many women drop off the path to career success due to family prioritization and thus contribute to a leaky pipeline.

A common theme the panelists agreed on as an issue women face in career advancement is the simple culture that our society has developed around advanced careers in medicine and medical education.  Men have historically dominated the field.  Because of this, young women have difficulty finding established, female role models in their field of interest.  Many women also feel a lack of expectations and respect from their peers, potentially due to the male-dominated stigma that exists.  The panel then began to discuss what we could do to reduce this unfortunate societal stigma and repair some of the leaks in the career pipeline for women.

So, how can women “have it all”? Jim Maher, Ph.D., Dean of Mayo Graduate School, offered advice he gives many female graduate students: “You have to find a partnership to facilitate your career”. As far as women succeeding in the biomedical field, it all comes down to networking: actively seeking out a network of mentors, in particular strong, female mentors. Young female scientists in particular are faced with a lack of women in the research. For these women, incorporating mentors on committees that are more progressive is a necessity when it comes to success of women in the sciences and health care.

Diversity Discussion Panel (from left to right: Karen Hedin, Kay Pepin, Jim Maher, Sumedha Penheiter, Jay-Sheree Allen, and moderator Sharonne Hayes). Photo credit: Crystal Mendoza

Diversity Discussion Panel (from left to right: Karen Hedin, Kay Pepin, Jim Maher, Sumedha Penheiter, Jay-Sheree Allen, and moderator Sharonne Hayes). Photo credit: Crystal Mendoza

How are issues in gender disparities solved? First off, we have to solve the problem of many people not understanding or accepting that inequality exists in the first place. The panel offered a simple solution to this: education that there are gender disparities would be a starting point. Furthermore, women mentoring women to take control of their careers and help them help themselves succeed. It was mentioned by a member in the audience (actually, it was Domenic Fraboni) that the best way to move forward with this issue and work towards equality is to disrupt the status quo as it stands. Many audience members agreed with this.

Education is key, first off to encourage change, but perhaps the metrics we hold for success are also outdated. Dr. Hayes cited an article published in the Academic Medicine Journal, which reported that female physicians publish fewer papers than their male counterparts throughout their careers, however that gap was no longer existent after 27 years in their careers. This is seen over and over again; women publish less and hold fewer leadership positions than men; which the paper held as a threshold for academic success. The question then becomes, what other measurements do we have for career success? Are there new metrics we have yet to take into consideration? This becomes an interesting question and one that we do not have an answer for.

We left the panel discussions with more questions than answers. The discussion was fantastic and the panel had wonderful advice to give both men and women about gender disparities and how to move forward. Our goal now is to educate others and effect change.

If you wish to continue this discussion, please comment below!

Useful resources:

When Scientists Choose Motherhood- American Scientist

Women in Science and Engineering Research (Intranet site)

Jan 27, 2016 · Medical "Marriage" - Improving the Clinician-Patient Relationship

By: Thomas Mork

“What do you know about him?” inquired my clinical instructor. I was on my first rotation as a student at the University of Utah and, using only two hands, was still able to count the number of patients I had seen. I commenced listing my patient’s home environment, his physical capabilities, etc. My clinical instructor cut me off. “That’s great, Tom, but what do you know about him?” I pondered the question for a moment.

“Well, he was a high school teacher.” I replied, questioningly. My clinical instructor smiled. “That’s it”, he said. And he made my goal for the next four weeks to learn something about the lives of my patients.

By the end of my clinical experience, I had formed a bond with my patients and their families that could be described as more than just a therapeutic alliance. Patients who had arrived in wheelchairs gave me hugs as they walked out the door. Families thanked me for listening to their needs and truly caring about their significant other or son or daughter. Seeing the ways we had affected their lives actually brought tears to my eyes on a couple occasions (not something I usually admit). My understanding of providing care has shifted from treating the disease to treating the person. I gained more from patients after understanding something about their lives than I did from focusing solely on the disease. Further, I gained greater satisfaction with my time as a student. I enjoyed going to work every day. This was a novel concept for me, and it was made possible because of the relationships I had formed.

“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” – Dale Carnegie

In his book, How to win friends and influence people, Dale Carnegie said it right. As soon as I took my clinical instructor’s advice of learning about my patient’s, I instantly started receiving more positive feedback and had patients that were willing to work in therapy twice a day. Today, as I am in my third clinical experience, I still continue to work on learning about the lives of my patients to show that I care. I have found that taking the extra few minutes to ask about their family or hobbies can make the difference between whether they will work with me or decline therapy.

I had the amazing opportunity of taking a motivational interviewing class in December of 2015. The instructor was excellent at keeping us involved in the lecture by having us practice motivational interviewing. At the beginning of his talk, he tried to instill a spirit of “active listening” in us. Through practice and demonstration, the participants in this class reported that having a conversation with a person who asked probing questions augmented with personal stories was more enjoyable than talking to someone who did not say anything. While this is common sense, the process of taking a medical history mostly consists of a list of questions formulated to obtain the information we need to make decisions. If we do not augment these questions with a genuine interest in people’s lives, our patients will most likely find the conversation less pleasant and may be less likely to want to participate in therapy or healthcare. Thus, by becoming genuinely interested in people’s lives, we can encourage participation, make friends, and increase our own personal job satisfaction.

I was taught this as a student. There are multiple classes that tell you how creating a “therapeutic alliance” is beneficial to encourage participation in your patients, to improve outcomes, and to prevent lawsuits. I listened to my professors tell us this while thinking, “I am already good at talking to people.” Then, I returned my focus to things like the renin-angiotensin system to prepare for my next test. However, during the first few weeks of my clinical, I realized just how difficult it was to make my examination feel less like a list of questions and more like meeting a new friend. Creating a personal connection with someone you just met is a skill that requires practice and guidance. Developing this ability is something I have practiced continually since my clinical instructor’s advice. Now, if my patient had an accident while skiing, I ask them what hills they like. If a patient has shoulder pain while biking, I ask what trails they ride. I have vastly improved on my ability to make these personal connections. However, I wish I had learned more about it in school.

The ability to form a therapeutic alliance is an abstract science; it is a skill we cannot easily quantify with metrics or tests. Yet, I believe it is one of the most important skills that we can possess in the healthcare profession. The ability to create a bond with patients is something that comes naturally for some, but not all. The same goes for physics or anatomy. The problem is, while we have a multitude of classes for the latter, very little formal time is spent on the former; one could argue that creating a personal connection is just as, or more, important in healthcare and in life.

Thomas Mork - Photo Credit to Ryan Ledebuhr

Thomas Mork – Photo Credit to Ryan Ledebuhr

Our duty as a profession is to care for the person behind the patient. We can do this by becoming genuinely interested in the lives of our patients and tailoring our care to their needs. It takes the additional probing question and/or personal story to show that we care. Creating a therapeutic alliance is a skill that takes time to develop. It is something we can all return to when we find our history taking is looking more like a list of questions than a conversation. Hopefully, by forging these therapeutic alliances, the people we are helping will be friends rather than patients.

Thomas Mork was born and raised in North Branch, MN. He graduated from St. Olaf College with a BA in Biology and is currently in the third and final year of the Doctor of Physical Therapy program in the Mayo School of Health Sciences. He also currently serves as the Physical Therapy Student Assembly Vice-President

Dec 17, 2015 · WiSER Presents: Women in Science and Engineering Series- Elke Mühlberger

By: Robin Willenbring

Being human is hard sometimes.

Now, to add to that, many of us reading this particular blog post, are human scientists or in the medical field. There have been too many times to count that each of us has questioned our life’s choice, our sanity and thought about being anything else. What keeps us going? That is the age old question, isn’t it? For each the answer is different. However, there is one defining feature, our passion. Whether it’s a passion for developing technologies, teaching the next generation, caring for the sick, running a company, thinking critically, or viruses; each is a passion. Throughout our careers, we find ways to share this passion, through our publications, scientific talks, poster session, and visiting with others.

In addition to discussing our passions with others, we tend to share the joys and struggles with our jobs. Some of these are unique, some common, regardless we share, and this is a good thing.

Currently, at Mayo Clinic the Women in Science and Engineering Research (WiSER) group along with the Center for Biomedical Discovery (CBD) is inviting successful scientists to share their passion through a scientific lecture and an informal coffee chat. This week WiSER and CBD is hosting Dr. Elke Mühlberger from Boston University. To give some insight into the awesomeness that is Elke, here are some fun facts:

  • She began her science career in Marburg, Germany
  • She left Germany to come to Boston University. Her story will be elaborated upon in further detail at her coffee chat.
  • She works with deadly viruses- that’s right, deadly!
  • This means she runs and works at the new National Emerging Infectious Disease Laboratories (NEIDL) in Boston, which contains a high-containment Biosafety Level 4 (BSL4) laboratory.
  • Overall, she is truly an amazing mentor for all and a phenomenal person in general as told by students in her laboratory.

Have I convinced you yet that she is a must meet?

So- if you want to hear a story about the struggles of being a human scientist, dealing with the obstacles of being a female in science, and all the passion that keeps you moving forward, come meet Dr. Elke Mühlberger on Friday, December 18, 2015 10:00am CST (information below). If that alone does not tempt you, coffee and bagels will also be provided.

Additionally, she is giving a scientific lecture later that afternoon titled “Loud and quiet: How human macrophages respond to ebolavirus infection” (information below)

Even if viruses aren’t your top interest or on your radar at all, come enjoy hearing about a successful scientist’s passion.


December 18, 2015 10:00am- 11:00am CST

Meet the Speaker: Dr. Elke Mühlberger 


MCR: GU 5-98         MCF: Birdsall 111         MCA: Griffin 265

*This event will be video conferenced

Refreshments will be served at all sites


December 18, 2015 1:30pm-2:30pm CST

Dr. Elke Mühlberger

Loud and Quiet: How human macrophages respond to ebolavirus infection



MCR: Mann Hall, Med Sci        MCF: Geffen 265              MCA: MCCRB 3-011

*This event will be video conferenced

Dec 3, 2015 · It's on Us

By Domenic Fraboni

The “It’s on US” campaign is a White House based movement that aims to increase awareness of sexual assault and sexual assault prevention.  I learned about the “It’s on US” campaign in January of last year when the NCAA became an official partner of the campaign.  As a member of the Division III Student Athlete Advisory Committee (DIII SAAC) I was tasked with bringing the campaign back to my respective conferences and campuses.  The “It’s on US” mission immediately resonated with me.  As a college football student-athlete I often felt subject to some unfair stereotypes of male student-athletes, specifically football athletes, and how they treated women.  Then I faced the real facts.  During their collegiate experience, one in every five women and one in sixteen men are subject to sexual assault.  My immediate thought became, “not on my campus.”   I was not going to let this many people be sexually assaulted at my school.   When I returned to Concordia College (Moorhead, MN) last spring semester, the college dean formed a student-working group and started doing what we could to create an environment on campus in which sexual assault was unacceptable.

Concordia College students displaying signatures of over 900 students pledging their commitment to the "It's on US" campaign.

Concordia College students displaying signatures of over 900 students pledging their commitment to the “It’s on US” campaign.

Rape.  Sexual Assault.  Domestic Violence.  How long it has been that these topics have been loomed over by a large taboo-esque shadow.  However, now is the time.  Now is the time that we can all band together to thwart sexual assault.  Many organizations, colleges and universities have partnered with this campaign to take a stand.  Now my plea is to all of YOU.  The statement “It’s on US” really does mean ALL of us.  The more people that stand behind this campaign, the stronger its presence will be felt throughout the country.  Take the initiative.  Take the pledge.  Educate yourself, and learn how to intervene effectively during situations in which sexual assault may occur.

I know that each of us may not be able to or want to run our own individual “It’s On Us” campaigns.  However, a large group of us together can have far reaching effects.  I encourage all of you who have taken the time to read this post to commit to the national “It’s on US” pledge.  It’s something that will take two minutes of your day, but may positively impact someone for a lifetime.  Many of the campaign sponsors have created videos to support the campaign.   Check out the video we made at Concordia College as an example.  These videos are meant to be a unifying organizational statement for the cause, as well as a call for others to join in.  The final step in this campaign is self-education.  Educate yourself on how to be an effective bystander.  Knowing effective ways to intervene in situations in which sexual assault may occur, is an easy way to diffuse potentially harmful scenarios.  Finally, understanding how to effectively and sensitively respond to surviving victims can allow us to help provide the appropriate emotional, legal, physical, or psychological support they need.  There are great educational tools on the “It’s on US” homepage.

Thank you for taking the time to read a post about this important topic.  I encourage everyone to seek further information on sexual assault prevention to help carry out the “It’s on US” mission.  In writing this, my greatest hope is that we can help protect men and women from a life-altering instance of sexual assault.  It’s on us.  It’s on Mayo Clinic.  Don’t be a bystander to the problem, be a part of the solution to stop sexual assault.

Domenic Fraboni was born in St. Paul and grew up in small town Princeton, MN.  He attended Concordia College, in Moorhead, MN, for his undergraduate education and is now a first year physical therapy student at the Mayo School of Health Sciences. 


I would like to thank all those individuals at Concordia College and in the NCAA that have helped me in working on this campaign.  I specifically would like to thank Dean Sue Oatey for pulling together the Concordia College student working group that made great progress on our campus for sexual assault prevention and education.  Furthermore, I want to thank the Division III SAAC NCAA liaisons, Jay Jones, Jean Orr, Brynna Barnhart, and Laura Peterson , for allowing me to speak on the NCAA Convention floor this coming January about our nationwide commitment to the “It’s on US” campaign.

Nov 22, 2015 · Humanitarianism and medicine

By Crystal A. Mendoza and Andrew M. Harrison

Humanitarianism medicine stands apart from both academic and non-academic medicine. Although not mutually exclusive, humanitarianism medicine is one component of the larger field of humanitarianism: a vast conceptual construct of community that transcends individual civilizations and societies across time. On November 18, 2015, the Mayo Clinic Dolores Jean Lavins Center for Humanities hosted Dr. James J. Orbinski, 1999 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, for its inaugural Rewoldt Nobel Laureate Lecture.

Dr. Orbinski, physician, humanitarian leader, and emeritus President of the International Council of Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), gave two lectures in Rochester, MN: “Humanitarianism In War: Médecins Sans Frontières And Beyond” and “Equity And Global Health — An Evening With Dr. James Orbinski”. On November 20, 2015, the Mayo College of Medicine Office for Diversity hosted its next Diversity Discussion, “International Health Opportunities & Responsibilities”, to reflect on these lectures. This event was hosted by Barbara L. Jordan and included four panelists: Ruth A. Bello (Operations Manager, Mayo School of Health Sciences), Dr. Phil R. Fischer (Department of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine, Mayo Clinic), Dr. Lewis R. Roberts (Division of Gastroenterology & Hepatology, Mayo Clinic), and Kolloh Nimley (Council for Minnesotans of African Heritage, Rochester, MN).

Photo Nov 20, 12 10 37 PM

From left to right: Dr. Phil Fischer, Ruth Bello, Dr. Lewis Roberts, Kolloh Nimley, and Barbara Jordan. (Photo by AMH)

As co-founder and Chair of the Board of Directors of Dignitas International, Dr. Orbinski spoke some of the global HIV/AIDS pandemic and “medicine proper”. However, in his first lecture, Dr. Orbinski spoke more of global warming as the greatest threat to human health. He spoke of access to health care as not only a basic human right, but as a matter of equity and justice as well. He spoke of the importance of economics as a tool to guide allocation of health care resources, but of the decision to use this tool for financial or health outcomes as a choice of society. In other words, he spoke less as a physician-humanitarian and more as humanitarian. In this context, the panelists and audience of the recent Diversity Discussion explored the content of Dr. Orbinski’s remarks and the implication of these remarks for both Mayo Clinic and the United States at large.

International Health Opportunities & Responsibilities: a full house. (Photo by AMH)

International Health Opportunities & Responsibilities: a full house. (Photo by AMH)

The panelists spoke on the topics of responsibilities and humanitarianism in global health. The consensus among the panel was that humanitarianism stems from the ability to provide sustainability, not medicine or supplies in underserved communities. One example of this came from Ms. Bello when she described Medical Brigades, led by physicians and students, and their challenges in helping a community in Central America identify water supplies. By training the leaders in this underserved community to properly purify their water and understand where their water supply came from, sustainability was attained. By asking “How can we help you do better”, instead of “What can we do for you”, global health leaders create long-term solutions. This is particularly important because humanitarian efforts are often driven by timelines, which may lead to solutions with short half-lives.

Our most basic goal in global health should be to “prevent needless illness and death”. As Dr. Roberts quoted Dr. William J. Mayo, “What better could we do than help young men to become proficient in the profession so as to prevent needless deaths?” The context of this quote comes from an address to the Minnesota legislature in March 1917 to allow an association between Mayo Clinic and the University of Minnesota (Aksamit AJ Jr, 2013, Humanum). It was inspired by the words of Abraham Lincoln, “that these dead shall not have died in vain”. It was also made the month before the United States declared war on Germany and entered the Great War, now known as World War I.

Medicine is an integral component of humanitarianism. However, medicine and even humanitarianism are only components of our global community. As our world becomes smaller, the implications of this realization become increasingly stark. We thank Dr. Orbinski, as well as the Diversity Discussion panelists and diverse audience, ranging from trainees to the Dean of Mayo Graduate School (Dr. L. Jim Maher, Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology) to the Medical Director and Chair of the Center for Humanities (Dr. Paul D. Scanlon, Division of Pulmonary & Critical Care Medicine), for engaging in one of the most important discussions within medicine.

Nov 19, 2015 · WiSER Takes Off!

Women in Science and Engineering Research (WiSER) has one mission: To support the success of women in research by providing opportunities for career development, networking with women leaders, identifying strong mentors, and developing a meaningful community for women in biomedical research at Mayo Clinic. They are off to a great start!

The group, founded by Kay Pepin and Mekala Raman, began with one key observation: women within Mayo Graduate School make up over half of the students (62%), both PhD and MD/PhD, but that number is not reflected in the Research Fellow population where men make up 62%. The gender disparity is even more striking for faculty, where women comprise only 21% of full faculty. These startling statistics are not unheard of for most academic and research institutions, however. In the United States, women still lag behind men when it comes to science and engineering faculty positions. So how do we encourage women to apply for faculty positions and increase representation of women in the STEM job force, and thereby fix the leaky pipeline?


Statistics provided by Kay Pepin and Mekala Raman.

Statistics provided by Kay Pepin and Mekala Raman.


Here at Mayo, WiSER has made it their goal to educate women by providing seminars, coffee chats, and integrating a community through book club discussions and other informal events. By bringing successful women to Mayo, whether they be alumna or not, WiSER provides new insight into how women can attain their career goals. The discussions are raw, and true; no two women have had the same story, but all have their own successes. As a participant, I have been fortunate to sit in with amazing women and listen to them talk about their life and how they got there.

These seminars not only provide insight into potential career options, but allow for women to network with other women. Female faculty that participate and lead these sessions also give insight to their own struggles, and offer advice to graduate students, fellows, and postdoctoral researchers looking at the next step. As a female graduate student, I look forward to future sessions WiSER has to offer, and am thankful for the resources they have provided.

For future sessions, please refer to WiSER’s intranet site. To be added to the mailing list, please contact Mekala Raman or Kay Pepin.

Editor’s Note:
Please refer to the following blog posts for more information about women and the gap:
Does gender bias benefit women in academia? By Clara Castillejo-Becerra
Sexism in science: does it still exist? By Stella Hartono
The Struggle for Women in Science By Jessica Silva
Why aren’t more white males a part of the Lean In discussion at Mayo Clinic? By Rielyn R. Campbell
Gender Equality: Women’s Rights are Human Rights by Wells B. LaRiviere

Nov 5, 2015 · Profession ≠ Job

By: Thomas Mork, SPT

What do you love about your profession? Is it seeing patients smile? Is it putting on your detective cap to figure out a disease? Or is it the sheer variety of the cases that you see every day? The fact is, if we go to work for one of these reasons, or one I haven’t mentioned, we are extremely fortunate; we are part of an exclusive club that enjoys our job. We are the ones that think about our patients as we make dinner, or research best practice for some light, nighttime reading. But our vocation comes with responsibility to ourselves and our colleagues. It is our duty to protect and advance our profession and further our knowledge for the good of ourselves, as well as our patient.

When I walked into class on the first day of PT school, I was expecting to get a job in three years. I knew that I liked working with people, showing others how to exercise, and I was a nerd about the musculoskeletal system. I liked to see the tabloids that read, “Physical Therapist Jobs to Grow by 60%!” But at the time, physical therapy was still just another job – just better than the car washing job I had in high school. It was one I knew I would enjoy, make a good living from, and have security in the job market. I had not yet realized the true meaning behind this profession.

I settled into my typical seat about halfway through the semester. Our professor wrote on the board, “Where Will You be in 10, 20, and 30 Years?” Not shockingly, I put down that at 54 I would be a physical therapist in Hawaii. My neighbor believed she would be a PT in Florida. As we went around the room describing our future plans, there was not one person who was not a PT in 30 years. We were all invested in this endeavor, more so than any car washing job we had in high school. No, this was more than a job. It was a profession. Teaching patients to exercise, encouraging them daily, and seeing them succeed were what I woke up for every day. Nothing could be more important than making sure this 30 year plan became a reality. I knew that I needed to do something to help achieve this goal. Thus, I became involved in our profession; I joined the American Physical Therapy Association.

That was two years ago. Today, I am in my final year of PT school and enjoying every minute of it. My involvement has matured, and I have since been elected Vice-President of the PT Student Assembly. Most importantly, I am still a member of the APTA. I am a member because I like seeing my patients smile, because I like showing a patient that they CAN walk, and because each day is different than the last. I am a member because my professional association is protecting the profession, so I can do these things and find joy in my work. They continue to fight for my rights in Washington. They fund and promote evidence based practice, and they provide innumerable opportunities for networking at national conferences. Thus, by supporting the APTA I am really supporting myself and my future.

I am not writing this out of some obligation to the American Physical Therapy Association. Nor am I writing this to try to win over other students and therapists over to join our cause. I truly just believe in what I do. Therefore, I will continually support physical therapy and stand behind the APTA mission statement. As another Mayo PT graduate once told me, “The wording of our mission and goals might change over time, but I will always support what the APTA stands for: moving the profession forward.” My goal is to always remember why I became a part of this profession and to play my part when supporting it. That is the responsibility that all of us hold within our respective healthcare professions, not just to our patients, but to ourselves.

Thomas Mork (back row, far right) as part of the 2015-2016 Student Assembly Board of Directors. (Credit to APTA)

Thomas Mork (back row, far right) as part of the 2015-2016 Student Assembly Board of Directors. (Credit to APTA)


Thomas Mork was born and raised in North Branch, MN. He graduated from St. Olaf College with a BA in Biology and is currently in the third and final year of the Doctor of Physical Therapy program in the Mayo School of Health Sciences. He also currently serves as the Physical Therapy Student Assembly Vice-President

Acknowledgement: My sincere appreciation to the Mayo School of Health Sciences for their formal education and in preparing me to be the best clinician and professional I can be.

Sep 24, 2015 · Looking at Diversity: From the Top Down

By Domenic Fraboni

At times, diversity can be a difficult area to be “successful” in.  This can be especially true when trying to represent all the different aspects of diversity in a specific committee, staff, team, or any other group.  The complexity of this topic webs out even further when including those non-superficial definitions of diversity: ethnicity, religion, orientation, social, family type, education, and the list could continue on.  It may seem to be an obvious statement, but if we have diversity of any sort, we will only be able to better understand, collaborate upon, and ultimately solve the issues that face us every day.  With this being said, why do so many organizations fall short when it comes to fully representing the diverse population that we comprise?  This was a topic that was discussed heavily at the 2015 NCAA Convention that was held this past January in Washington D.C.  As a member of the Division III (DIII) Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, I was able to observe first hand the issues, challenges, and proposed solutions that Division III faces in fully representing our diverse community.

The Division III Philosophy  emphasizes that member institutions should “seek to establish and maintain an environment that values cultural diversity and gender equity among their student-athletes and athletics staff.”  However, at the DIII Issues Forum that was held during the NCAA Convention, where representatives from every membership institution are present, the lack of diversity among the student-athlete population was among the top issues discussed.  A graphic was shown to the membership that explained that minority groups comprised an average of 16 to 22 percent of the student athlete population.  This statistic did not sound too alarming until we learned that minority groups account for 37 to 44 percent of the general student body! For the next twenty minutes, the membership was tasked with answering two key questions:  what could be causing this difference between the student body and student-athlete populations, and how can we remedy this inconsistency?

Domenic Fraboni speaking at student-athlete informational session at 2015 NCAA Convention photo by Brynna Barnhart

Domenic Fraboni speaking at student-athlete informational session at 2015 NCAA Convention (Photo by Brynna Barnhart)

The responses to these questions all seemed to point in the same direction.  Many of the membership representatives talked about struggling to interest prospective student-athletes in their program because they did not have the diversity they wanted reflected in their athletic administration and staff.  After learning this I went and did a little research of my own.  Of the head coaches in Division III, depending on the sport, anywhere from zero to ten percent are made up of under represented populations.  Minorities only make up 5.4% of the 458 athletic directors in the division.  Finally, only five of the 110 conference presidents and conference commissioners represent minority populations.  After discovering these staggering statistics, I wondered: how does our division even pray to reach a higher level of student-athlete diversity without valuing that same diversity higher up the chain.  I now whole-heartedly agree with the memberships view that we need to view diversity in DIII from the top down.

Division III Student-Athlete Advisory Committee from 2014-2015 year (Photo by Brynna Barnhart)

Now comes the next question of “how can we do this?”  The discussion among the DIII membership fostered great conversation about how to create a pipeline to get good candidates from under-represented populations into administrative positions.  Several of these ideas align closely with Division II’s Best Hiring Practices: Partnering for a Better Tomorrow .  Initial discussion revolved around not just being able to find candidates but being able to find qualified, prepared candidates.  Many suggestions revolved around recruiting candidates beyond paper.  This strategy includes partnering with associations such as the National Association of Collegiate Women Athletics Administrators or the Advocates for Athletic Equity (formerly the Black Coaches and Administrators) to get in contact with quality candidates.  Further suggestions included encouraging minority candidates at one’s own institution, whether they are successful student-athletes, interns, head coaches, or administrators already, to stride for positions further up the ladder in athletics.  For these potential candidates, the NCAA offers programs, such as the Pathway Program, Achieving Coaching Excellence (ACE) Program, or Leadership Institute.  These programs are meant to help women and minority candidates to further develop their skills and knowledge in athletic coaching or administration.

With all of the feasible strategies proposed to rectify the disparity in the DIII student-athlete pool, I understand that it still may be a process to achieve the representative diversity that the division desires.  There is now, however, one thing I do understand.  Sometimes diversity needs to be looked at from the top down.

Domenic graduated from Concordia College this past May and is now a first year student in the Mayo School of Health Sciences Doctorate of Physical Therapy Program.  Domenic has been involved with the NCAA Division III Student-Athlete Advisory Committee since July of 2013 as the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and Upper Midwest Athletic Conference representative. He would like to  offer a huge thank you to the NCAA for allowing student-athletes to have such a huge voice in their organization.  He also thanks the liaisons specific to his committee, Jay Jones, Brynna Barnhart, and Jean Orr, for helping to introduce everyone and educating them on many of the issues that Division III faces. His  final thank you goes out to Eric Hartung for helping him  find the statistics on diversity in Division III.

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