Instituting Diversity

November 21, 2004

Mark Miester
Phone: (504) 865-5714

Industrial and organizational psychology, the branch of psychology that deals with behavior in work settings, often focuses on issues related to fairness in hiring and employment, but ethnic minorities constitute a disproportionately small number of psychologists in general and industrial and organizational psychologists in particular.

burkeThat's something Mike Burke, professor of business and psychology, is trying to change.

As the 2003-2004 president of the 6,500-member Society of Industrial and Organizational Psychologists, Burke led an effort to establish a teaching institute for faculty at minority-serving institutions to help them incorporate industrial and organizational psychology material into their courses and advise students interested in graduate-level study.

The first institute took place at Tulane last November and attracted faculty members from Dillard University, Xavier University, Southern University at New Orleans, and Prairie View A&M.

A second workshop is planned for January 2005 in Washington, D.C. "The idea for the institute was generated primarily as a part of my set of presidential goals," Burke says.

"We had discussed in the society how to increase minority representation for years. We had a number of efforts that we didn't feel were successful, so we basically wanted to try something new."

While many students are exposed to psychology through survey courses, few introductory textbooks include sections on industrial and organizational psychology.

Burke says the lack of material coupled with the relatively small number of industrial and organizational psychology departments nationally contributes to the lack of minority representation.

"Minority students in particular are not necessarily exposed to the field because it's a fairly small field relative to other areas of inquiry," Burke says. "Exposing students is important and we don't necessarily have a large number of programs to allow us that opportunity."

Working with a colleague, Burke established the Institute for the Teaching of I-O Psychology to serve as a bridge between the society and psychology faculty at minority-serving colleges and universities.

"Our goal is to communicate more directly with the faculty at minority-serving institutions who could then pass on information to their students," says Burke, who directed Tulane's industrial and organizational psychology program for 10 years prior to accepting a chair appointment at the A.B. Freeman School of Business. "We look at this as more of a long-term effort to go through faculty at these various schools to assist in recruiting students into the field."

Last year's institute featured presentations on incorporating industrial and organizational psychology information into undergraduate courses, the nature and types of work that industrial and organizational psychologists perform and how faculty members can best advise students interested in pursuing graduate- level training.

While it's too early to judge the success of the institute, Burke is encouraged by the response of participants.

"We're going to try to keep the workshops small because we're trying to train faculty members," Burke says. "If we branch out and conduct workshops for students, attendance would go through the roof. Keeping it small for the faculties will probably be the order for the next few years."

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Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000