We raise our horns to Dr. Lydia Contreras, an accomplished chemical engineering professor and researcher who focuses her work on recruitment, retention and support for faculty members across the University. Within the provost office, she has dedicated her work to strengthening and supporting communities in every college and school with the goal of creating environments where everybody can learn, grow and thrive.
Could you tell us a bit about some of your current projects?
Currently, I’m working with deans, our faculty service academy and department chairs to better understand burnout among faculty who serve their communities. This is something that is dear to my heart because it’s important to mitigate burnout among our faculty members and to recognize their service and all that they do to make our campus a better place. Another program that I’m excited about is the Seed Grants for Action that Promote Community Transformation Program, in which we help college deans learn about new ideas from their faculty. When faculty get buy-in from their deans, we help fund their projects with co-sponsorship from their respective colleges to bring their projects to fruition. It’s a highly collaborative program that gives faculty an opportunity to pilot their ideas and get seed grant money for projects that can really make a difference.
What do you love most about your work?
I love my work for so many reasons. I get to really be in tune with people’s concerns, and I get a better understanding of their experiences on campus. It’s really valuable for me to understand that lens and to be able to work with the provost on those concerns. I also love the collaboration between faculty, staff, students and the deans who support their projects. The deans learn so much when they have conversations with students and faculty about their projects and research findings. This provides a new perspective on certain areas that need a lot of work in order to create welcoming and productive environments. I just love having that collective vision and coming together to form it with others.
What does it mean to you to be honored with the Heman Sweatt Legacy Award?
It feels very special during this time. It makes me reflect on the many people who are going the extra mile to make people understand what it is to be an inclusive community— and how we can get this job done so UT can continue being one of the best universities in the nation. It all starts with caring and asking questions like, ‘How are you feeling? What’s important to you?” Stop and listen to what they are saying with empathy and the desire to learn. If we can all take that approach, we could really make a difference and create environments where everybody can thrive.
Reporting by Abbie Bard