An Interview with Anita Farrington Associate Dean of Student Affairs at the NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering

Harlem Times had the pleasure to sit down with Ms. Anita Farrington, and what follows are some of the gems she shared with us.

How long have you held the position of Associate Dean of Student Affairs?  I have been in this position for about four years, but my career in student affairs, and higher education, expands about 33 years.  I spent most of my career at NYU, and wore various hats. I started out at the graduate business school and then went onto the college of arts and science as the dean of freshman, and then came to this post in December 2010, to oversee the merger of student affairs. We were NYU-Polytech, an affiliate, so it was Poly tech institute, a standalone engineering school, second oldest in the country. And many first generation families and individuals have graduated from Poly over the years. So this merger was in the third year, and I spent about two years after that overseeing the aliment and merger of student affairs, and then January 1, 2014 we became officially merged. So now NYU has an engineering school and it’s a win for NYU and also for the school of engineering, because our students have all the resources available as we put it across the river.  And they also have the benefit of being a part of this really innovative tech triangle here now in Brooklyn, because Brooklyn is now really hot in terms of technology and start-ups.

To better enlighten our readers; please give us an idea of what it means to carry the title of a dean.
There are many different types of deans. I am a dean of student affairs and basically my role is to engage our students outside of the classroom, so I’m not an academic dean, I’m an administrative dean. And the goal is really to make sure they are getting engaged socially, culturally, and academically. I also partner with my academic departments in terms of events and programming with them. And to also make sure they are prepared to go into the work force.  So I’m meeting and working with career placement. So with a lot of the programs we do, the goal is to really make sure we have well-rounded students. And that doesn’t only happen by going to class. Likewise, studies have shown that students who become involved in, and participate outside the classroom tend to do better academically. And that carries across all disciplines. And I am very proud of my engineering students here because you would think with their vary rigorous curriculum that they wouldn’t manage their time in such that they could take on leadership roles; whether its participating in a club, being on an executive board, or even doing community service. We have a poly project and you would be surprised by how many students are on the weekends rolling up their sleeves composting the Gowanus canal in Brooklyn so they are very active in that respect as well.

We keep hearing a lot about STEM, what is STEM? And why is STEM so important to you?

STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics. We are clearly an engineering school but our students certainly can cross register for those other areas at the various schools at NYU. So we have many interdisplinary programs in STEM, and again, it’s great because it makes our students even more well- rounded. There are two areas that are of particular importance to me in STEM education, the first is diversity, increasing the pipeline of women engineers.  14% of the engineering workforce are women and that’s a problem, and we need to collectively do more about that. And the second passion/interest is around diversity in terms of African American and Latino students, because depending on the study you look at, about 14% combined are African American and Latino engineers. So these are both numbers well below even 20%.  There are a few organizations both for undergrad and graduate students that support those two groups. So we are beginning to see more of that. And here at the NYU School of engineering we have programs that basically cater to both and that’s very exciting to be a part of that. But there is still a lot more work to do. And as a senior student affairs officer,  I am looking at how can we have an impact on the pipeline for these two groups  in terms of the programming that we do, and I’m most excited about that!

What have been some of your hallmark moments over the years?
When I first came here I launched a women’s summit, and that summit grew from a half of day now to almost a full week. We have it coming up in the first week of March and basically we are shinning light on the good work that our female alums in the workforce have done. We have female faculty that participate heavily, even our female students that are doing research also participate. The summit consists of keynotes or what we call lighting talks, which are brief moments in which they talk about their research and the challenges. And then we have keynotes on the front and back end that really take it further, and talk about how they have lived a life of inventing and empowering. And that’s our theme this year: Invent, Empower. In doing programs like this we talk about the challenges and obstacles, but at the end of the day we want to empower, and we want to give them strategies and tools. On the accomplishment end I would say that this program has been a legacy for me; in terms of bringing it here and it being sustainable over the past four years. And very soon coming in the fall I will launch a diversity summit which will have a similar template, with the theme being the intersection of engineering and business. And that will be a legacy moment for me, bringing everything full circle, because I started my career at the graduate business school.

Exposing our youth to STEM
There are programs that are targeting young female and young African American students around STEM from Kindergarten to 12th grade within the public school system. And some programs are funded by corporations, or funded or subsidized by Poly. We host a summer internship program, and we also have a relationship with an area high school that we partner with, and link those students with our faulty for tutoring.  The K-12 STEM initiatives are happening even in the Girl Scouts. I just met Barbara Murphy Warrington, the new CEO of greater New York Girl Scouts, who is also an Africa American woman.

Further, Brooklyn has one of the largest Girl Scout troops with 90% being young women of color. And they have a STEM leadership group that runs nine months. So that’s another example of a national organization that gets it, in terms of young women and women of color. And that we all need to be partnering to figure out how to fully expose young people from kindergarten through 12th grade to what it means to be an engineer. And that it’s accessible and it’s really cool to major in math.  Therefore, getting them into the pipeline isn’t only happening at the university level.  This is breaking news over the past five years.  At Poly we are partnering with various programs.  So that’s what really rocks my world these days in terms of doing more around the diversity piece. And fortunately that supports part of the mission of the school, and that is to increase our numbers in those areas. So it’s great that my passion is linked to one of the roles of the school of engineering.