Becky Wai-Ling Packard

Meribeth E. Cameron Faculty Award for Scholarship

It is one thing to be a stellar scholar, nationally and internationally recognized in one’s field, and it is another altogether if one’s scholarship also transforms higher education itself. But this is exactly the way to describe the research accomplishments of Becky Packard. An educational psychologist who joined the Mount Holyoke faculty in 1999, Becky’s research focuses on the mentoring, advising, and retention of underrepresented students across the curriculum but particularly in STEM fields. In more than 30 articles on which she is the lead or a co-author and in her recent book – Successful  STEM Mentoring Initiatives for Underrepresented Students: A research-based guide for faculty and administrators – she has provided research-based approaches for how to challenge the systemic marginalization of particular groups of students and thus to radically alter not only the outcomes for these students but the structures of exclusion that shape the disciplines and institutions in which we work.  Her scholarship bridges the divides between theory, research methods, and praxis seamlessly. As a result, Becky’s work maps for us a series of interventions, mechanisms, and pedagogical and institutional practices that make possible not just the persistence of underrepresented students but that allow them to thrive. Notably, Becky defines “underrepresented” expansively, giving her work enormous reach and impact. She teaches us how to support the pathways and to foster the success of people of color, women, community college transfer students, first generation students, non-traditional age students, and both working and working class students. As a recent reviewer asserts, her scholarship is “a virtual treasure trove” of strategies that can revolutionize the success of both undergraduate and graduate students in STEM through what Becky calls “mentoring with intention.” To those who ask how to ensure diversity, equity, and inclusion in higher education, Becky Packard gives us a truly compelling and transformative set of answers.

The expansive nature and broad impact of Becky’s scholarship and its practical application have ensured that, in addition to receiving impressive recognition in the field of educational psychology, she is recognized and celebrated in a variety of other fields into which her work intervenes. In 2005, she won the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) which is the highest honor bestowed by U.S. government upon early-career scientists. She has won three NSF grants for her research on pathways in STEM fields totaling over 1.5 million dollars as well as other prestigious grants from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundation, the Marion and Jasper Whiting Foundation, and Google. In other words, her reputation moves across disciplinary and institutional boundaries in ways that are truly rare.

Becky is widely sought after for her consulting, as she is able to move institutions of all kinds towards an inclusive environment in which excellence is possible for all students, faculty, and staff. Over 45 colleges and universities have invited her to provide workshops on mentoring of all kinds, as have numerous professional organizations, businesses, non-profits, and community organizations. In other words, Becky’s research makes her a leader in the vital work of fostering the conditions that create equity. Her leadership extends well beyond higher education in numerous ways, but in particular in the ways that her work has helped educational institutions to support underrepresented students who in turn change the world when they leave their colleges and universities and move out into the workforce. And we are so lucky that Becky has generously shared her expertise in mentoring, equity, and fostering diversity with the Mount Holyoke community – through her teaching and advising, as the founding Director of the Teaching and Learning Initiative program, as Associate Dean of Faculty, and as Director of the Weissman Center for Leadership. For Becky, teaching, advising, and research are therefore truly inseparable, making her a model colleague at our research liberal arts college. Her ability to transform the institutions at which she works in so many positive ways was recently recognized by the University of Massachusetts, Amherst which asked her to be (just temporarily) the Chancellor’s Leadership Fellow-in-Residence. It is not often that one sees rigorous scholarship that is linked to transformative practice but is also animated by genuine generosity, a devotion to community, and a true commitment to social justice. But in Becky Packard, we see just that remarkable combination. We are delighted to present her with the Meribeth E. Cameron Faculty Award for Scholarship.