Associate Dean of CELS’ Work is Guided by Her Experiences as a Student

By Gabriella Placido, CELS Communications Fellow

As the first in her family to pursue a career in STEM, Associate Dean Becky Sartini understands the struggle of going it alone without a role model. “I now realize that being the only scientist in my family had a significant impact on me,” explains Sartini. “You don’t feel like you fit in. There is a ‘hidden curriculum’ about being successful in college, especially in a STEM field, that I want to make known.”

That’s why she’s made inclusion in science, mentorships and experiential learning a priority since joining the University of Rhode Island’s College of the Environment and Life Sciences (CELS) as a research faculty member in 2006. “Making science more accessible and enabling students to see themselves as scientists is very important to me,” Sartini states. “Many students I work with often have very similar backgrounds to mine, and I share a connection with them.”

Like many students who are interested in working with animals but lack role models, Sartini initially set out to become a veterinarian, unaware of other possible career paths in animal science. Her undergraduate thesis involved a research project in Namibia, Africa studying the efficacy of using guard dogs to prevent cheetah predation of livestock. This experience solidified her passion for research which set her on a different career path. She obtained her Bachelor’s degree at Hampshire College and both of her graduate degrees at the University of California, Davis. She’s also held postdoctoral appointments at Cornell University and the University of Massachusetts Medical School. As a result of these cumulative experiences, she discovered her love of teaching and the importance of role models and mentors in supporting the success of women in STEM.

As a CELS faculty member, Sartini runs a reproductive physiology lab in the Fisheries, Animal, and Veterinary Science department that contributes to the safety, efficiency, and sustainability of food production. She also works closely with the URI Office for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning (ATL) to continue enhancing best teaching practices including course design, online pedagogy, metacognition and inclusive pedagogy. During her time as a faculty member, in addition to upper level physiology courses, she designed and offered an online section of the Introduction to Animal Science course and contributed to the Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems major.

Sartini was appointed associate dean of academic programs for CELS in January, 2020, where she focuses on initiatives including academic advising, development of new programs, and supporting efforts to increase the diversity of faculty, staff and students. Drawing on her own personal background, Sartini uses her new position to link students who are undecided about majors to potential careers, and help them determine what’s a good fit for their interests. One example of this is her collaborative work with URI’s Transfer Resource office and the Community College of Rhode Island to pair transfer student interests with potential CELS majors. Sartini also uses her experience with ATL to support the continued adoption of evidence-based teaching methods throughout the college.“It is important to me as an associate dean to maintain contact with students and what’s going on in classrooms,” she explains.

Sartini says what sets CELS apart from the traditional land grant universities where she did most of her training is the fact that the college is interdisciplinary. “We are all under this one umbrella in CELS,” she explains.“It is a college that includes traditional agriculture departments like Animal Science, Plant Science and Natural Resource Sciences in addition to Cell and Molecular Biology and Geology. This facilitates having conversations across disciplines and creating innovative courses and programs.” This enables Sartini to be part of conversations among different departments. “One of my favorite aspects of being an associate dean is making connections for people that increase opportunities for CELS students.”

Sartini has led an exciting and unique career that began with an interest in animal science research and evolved into a position that enables her to use her own personal experiences and challenges as a young student to support academic programs across CELS. As a new associate dean, she is working hard behind the scenes to make science and college a more inclusive and supportive experience.

“I am happy to have come back home to Rhode Island for my work in CELS after making a full circle around the country,” states Sartini. “I didn’t plan on becoming an associate dean, but I’m very grateful for this opportunity because it has been a great fit for me.”

By Gabriella Placido