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Q&A: Academic Senate chairperson nominated for women in education leadership award


After 16 years working at Central Michigan University, mathematics faculty member Katrina Piatek-Jimenez received CMU's 2021 nomination for the Distinguished Woman in Higher Education Leadership Award. 

This award, presented by the American Council on Education, is to honor women who have proven outstanding leadership skills in education.

One such woman, Piatek-Jimenez has been teaching and taking on leadership roles here at CMU ever since her graduation from the University of Arizona in 2004. 

Piatek-Jimenez has been serving on CMU's Academic Senate for 13 years and during that time her colleagues often encouraged her to take up leadership roles.

During the Fall 2020 semester, she was nominated as the Academic Senate Chairperson by her fellow senators. She has been conducting virtual Senate meetings and teaching math at the same time.

Piatek-Jimenez is married and the mother of two daughters and wants to be a teach to become strong female leaders as well.

Central Michigan Life spoke with Piatek-Jimenez about award nomination and being a woman in leadership roles.

CM Life: What lead you to teaching math?

Piatek-Jimenez: I majored in math as an undergraduate because I loved it, it was always my strongest discipline i really enjoyed learning. When I was an undergrad I learned about a program at university of Arizona where you can get a PhD in math and study advanced mathematics but also study education and the teaching and learning of math. When I learned about that program I said oh my gosh thats exactly what I want to do, it was a good fit for me. 

Are you passionate about the classes you teach?

I enjoy teaching an awful lot, I love working with students I really like studying math education, I do a lot of work in the stereotypes of mathematicians and how those stereotypes effect who goes into math in terms of gender and race and things like that, I’m kind of a sociologist at heart.

What kind of accomplishments qualify you for an award like this?

I’m the chair of the Academic Senate this year and next year, I was the lead author on the advanced grant at CMU, the purpose of the grant is to improve the culture and climate for women faculty in stem at CMU, and I helped bring the team together in writing that. At a national conference I started a gender and sexuality working group in mathematics education and I’ve been helping lead that group, we meet every year. One thing I like about that group is its a great mentoring opportunity for junior faculty just joining the field and for graduate students who are studying gender equality in math education, so that been a great mentoring experience for me. Just earlier this week I met with two graduate students at different universities who are part of this group and doing some mentoring with them. I also created the cross listed course between math and gender studies its called MTH 104 Women in STEM fields. It’s a freshman level course and we talk about the experience of women in stem fields and the social construction of gender and how society kind of formulates what women should be like and what men should be like and we indoctrinate our children into these beliefs and that affects the types of careers that people choose to go into and also effects peoples behavior towards women in male dominated careers and men in female dominated careers. I like doing a lot of mentoring with students, those were some of the thing i had written about in the documentation that i was asked to submit for the award. 

How did you get nominated for this award?

One of my colleagues in the math department nominated me. The university was sending out emails about the award asking people to nominate colleagues and one of my colleagues told me when she read that she thought of me immediately and thought “Katrina would be the perfect person for this” and ended up nominating me. I thought it was very amazing that she thought of me.

What are some of the challenges you face as a women in leadership role?

I would argue that a lot of the challenges that women face in leadership roles are very similar to the types of challenges that women face in STEM fields or any field where women are under represented. Sometimes people assume women aren’t as knowledgable or as competent as men, people don’t always take women's ideas seriously or if they do they don’t credit them and don’t always keep women in the loop. People are more critical of women mistakes, they also expect women to do menial task like bookkeeping that they don’t expect men to do. 

Personally this year as Chairperson though I feel like people have been extremely supportive of me and encouraging of me in this role, I don’t feel that I’ve experience a lot of negativity in this leadership role.

Were you nervous to take up these leadership roles?

I wouldn't say that I was nervous about chair of the senate, more I was concerned about time. I’m involved in so many things, being the lead on the advance grant takes up a lot of my time and I do a lot of other service things I also have my research I work on. I was concerned about whether I would be able to do all the things I want to do, but I’m a pretty driven person, if its something I want to do, I will somehow make the time, even if it means working evenings even if it means working weekends .

How do you balance these leadership responsibilities with teaching?

In the fall I only taught one class and at this point I’m not teaching any classes, that has helped a lot. If I was teaching three classes still I wouldn’t be able to make the time but I realized this semester how much I miss teaching now that I’m not doing it, and not spending a lot of time working one on one with students and not interacting with students like I usually do. I miss it a lot, teaching my 104 class was one of my highlights last semester, I’m looking forward to doing more teaching again in the future at some point. 

How do you personally prepare for leadership roles?

As far back as elementary school I was considered a leader amongst my peers, I think I’ve always had that as part of my personality and its followed me throughout my life. I’m a very organized person and I write lists all the time and I thinks thats helped me a lot in my leadership roles, keeping track of things and being organized.

Is there any advice you would give to young women pursuing leadership roles?

I have two daughters so I spend a lot of time thinking about this and honestly I don’t have advice for girls or women. I have advice for parents and teachers and men. For a long time the narrative has been ‘how can we fix the girls’ and we need to break that narrative. We need to think about fixing society, as a society we need to start realizing that women are socialized differently than men. The leadership skills that women often develop tend to be more collaborative and research shows are more effective than the traditional leadership skills that men are socialized to have. 

When I was growing up girls that demonstrated strong leadership skills they are told they’re bossy and to tone it down, yet when boys demonstrate the same skills they’re encouraged to follow those behaviors. When i talk to my daughters and see them being strong leaders instead of telling them, ‘don’t be so bossy’ I tell them things like ‘I know that you’re a good leader and I love watching you lead but part of being a good leader is to listen to other peoples ideas and to figure out ways to incorporate other peoples ideas into what we’re doing.’ I make sure my daughters know that these are strengths and help to make them better leaders when they get older.