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Strategic Diversity Clusters 

In the effort to advance Rutgers toward a thriving culture of diversity, equity, and inclusive academic excellence, President Jonathan Holloway announced a new Strategic Diversity Cluster Hiring initiative that reaffirms the university’s commitment to recruit and retain faculty working in four interdisciplinary areas of strength and emerging promise at Rutgers: Race, Racism, and Inequality;  Health Equity; Advancing STEM Diversity, and Engaged Climate Action. The eight clusters below represent the first phase of this new program and will unfold over the next three years on our campuses in New Brunswick, Camden, and Newark. Approximately twenty-five new faculty will be hired at all ranks over the next three years and will join existing Rutgers faculty working in a broad array of departments and disciplines. Each cluster is led by a faculty Cluster Champion who plays a vital role in guiding the cluster’s activity and progress.

Cluster Descriptions and Champions

New Brunswick

  • Five new cluster hires in a Social and Behavioral Sciences (SBS) cluster in Race, Racism, and Intersecting Inequalities (RRII) will build on Rutgers SBS Departments’ existing strengths in examining the impact of race and racism on economic, social, political, environmental, and health inequalities and will raise Rutgers’ national and international standing in these fields.  Members of this cluster will be invited to bring their perspectives and expertise in the social and behavioral sciences together in an interdisciplinary seminar or undergraduate course in RRII. That course will form the foundation, together with a selection of other related SBS courses, for the new SBS-sponsored undergraduate certificate in RRII. In addition, cluster members will initiate the first interdisciplinary SBS RRII research consortium available to faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates to facilitate collaborations in scholarship, teaching, and outreach. The cluster will draw from seven departments and one center: Africana Studies, AnthropologyEconomicsGeographyPolitical SciencePsychology, and Sociology from SBS, SAS; and the Eagleton Institute for Politics’ Center for American Women and Politics. 

    Cluster Hires:

    Cluster Champions: 

    Diana Sanchez, Professor, Psychology, SAS, Rutgers-New Brunswick, and Kevon Rhiney, Associate Professor of Human-Environment Geography, SAS, Rutgers-New Brunswick

    Diana Sanchez

    Diana sanchez Rutgers

    Diana T. Sanchez is a Professor in the Psychology Department and a Faculty Fellow in the Social and Behavioral Sciences Division Dean's Office. She is a diversity scientist whose research focuses on stigma, identity, intergroup bias, and close relationships. Broadly speaking, her research examines how being the target of stereotypes affects the physical, psychological, and relational health of women, racial/ethnic minorities and other minoritized groups. Dr. Sanchez has more than fifteen years of experience participating and leading diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives at Rutgers and in the broader scientific community. Her DEI research and service have been recognized by numerous awards, including the Faculty Leader in Diversity Award from Rutgers, the Society of Experimental Social Psychology Diversity Science Mid-Career Award, and the Distinguished Service to the Society of Personality and Social Psychology award.


    Kevon Rhiney photo

    Kevon Rhiney

    Kevon Rhiney (he/him/his) is an Associate Professor of Human-Environment Geography in the School of Arts and Sciences at Rutgers University-New Brunswick. His primary research examines the complex conditions under which rural agrarian landscapes change, and the socio-material implications these changes pose for smallholder livelihoods. More recent research has started to explore the biopolitical dimensions of post-hurricane reconstruction efforts across the Caribbean. Dr. Rhiney has co-edited two books and his work has been published in a number of interdisciplinary journals including the Annual Reviews, GeoforumProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and World Development. He is currently the development section editor for Geography Compass, editorial board member for the Political Geography journal, and served as a contributing author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5C.

  • The urban environment is home to billions of people around the globe, and New Jersey is among the most densely populated urban region in the United States. Urban environments are both substantial sources of global environmental pollution and discrete locations whose populations are routinely exposed to unhealthy indoor and outdoor environments. Drinking water safety, wastewater treatment, municipal solid waste disposal, exposure to legacy and emerging pollutants, and air quality are of tremendous concern to urban residents. The rapidly changing climate, sea level rise, flooding during hazardous weather events, and declining air quality exacerbate these challenges and further threaten the health of urban communities. Six new cluster hires will center on the sustainability and resilience of urban environments with additional emphasis on urban and environmental health, environmental justice, and the effects of climate change. The cluster will draw from four departments across four schools on the New Brunswick Campus: Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE, SoE), Chemical and Biochemical Engineering (CBE, SoE), Environmental Sciences (DES, SEBS), Biochemistry and Microbiology (DBM, SEBS); and the School of Engineering (SoE), School of Environmental and Biological Sciences (SEBS), Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy (EJBSPP) and the Rutgers School of Social Work (RUSSW).

    Cluster Hires:

    Current Cluster Job Postings:

    Cluster Champions: 

    Donna Fennell, Professor, Department of Environmental Sciences, SEBS, Rutgers-New Brunswick, and Jie Gong, Associate Professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, SOE, Rutgers-New Brunswick

    donna fennell

    Donna E. Fennell

    Donna E. Fennell is an Environmental Engineer and is a Professor and Chair of the Department of Environmental Sciences.  Professor Fennell’s research focuses on microbial processes for pollutant detoxification at contaminated sites, microbial activity in the atmosphere, and biological processes for biogas production from wastes.  She has published several landmark papers on organohalide-respiring bacteria with recent work focused on identifying novel microbes that are involved in dechlorination of deadly dioxin in the sediments of the highly polluted Passaic River. Her work has been funded by NSF, DoD-SERDP, NJDEP, the Hudson River Foundation and industry.  She teaches water and wastewater treatment, biological unit processes and bioremediation courses. She is a fellow of the Rutgers Leadership Academy program, Changing The Future For Women In STEM at Rutgers, and the Higher Education Resource Services (HERS) Leadership Institute.



    jie gong rutgers

    Jie Gong

    Jie Gong is an Associate Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Rutgers University.  

    His research focuses on quantifying and modeling the natural and built environments for the most vulnerable communities so that we can understand and mitigate vulnerabilities to natural and man-made extreme events as well as rapid technology and policy changes.  

    He conducts research on two interrelated fronts: (1) optimization and deployment of remote sensing systems for disaster response, design and development of cyberinfrastructure to support hazard analysis and modeling, and modeling of natural and manmade disaster impacts to urban communities; (2) quantifying and mitigating stressors in urban societies through simulations and smart city solutions, in particular related to mobility of disabled populations and well-being of distressed communities.


  • The Fair and Responsible Data Science cluster will establish Rutgers as a center of inquiry into the values and social context associated with data-driven decisions, real-world case studies, and the appropriate use of DS methods across diverse fields, including sciences, social sciences, technology, engineering, and business. Four senior or mid-career hires will be made in Computer Science (SAS), Electrical and Computer Engineering (SoE), Statistics (SAS), and in the School for Communication and Information.

    Cluster Hires:

    Cluster Champions:

    Mark Aakhus, Associate Dean for Research, and Professor of Communication, SC&I; Rong Chen, Distinguished Professor and Department Chair, Statistics, SAS; Matthew Stone, Professor and Dept Chair, Computer Science, SAS; and Wade Trappe, Professor and Associate Dean for Academic Programs and Research, Electrical and Computer Engineering, SoE

    Mark Aakhus photo

    Mark Aakhus

    Mark Aakhus is Associate Dean for Research and Professor of Communication, SC&I, Rutgers-New Brunswick. He investigates the relationship between communication and design, especially the uses of technological and organizational design, to augment human interaction and reasoning for decision-making and conflict management. He uses multiple methods from discourse analysis and computational social science to examine language, argumentation, and social interaction in professional practice, organizational processes, and information infrastructures.




    Ron Chen Photo

    Rong Chen

    Rong Chen is a Distinguished Professor of Statistics and Chair, SAS, Rutgers-New Brunswick. A leading expert in time series analysis, forecasting, and Monte Carlo methods with applications ranging from signal processing, bioinformatics, business, and economics, he has published an acclaimed book on nonlinear time series analysis and contributed to over 100 scientific papers. He is an elected fellow of American Statistical Association and Institute of Mathematical Statistics. Rong is a former co-editor of Journal of Business & Economic Statistics and the current co-editor of Statistica Sinica and has served on the editorial board of several leading statistics and econometrics journals. He is a former program director of the National Science Foundation. He served as treasurer of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics and other various roles in professional statistical societies.



    Matthew Stone Photo

    Matthew Stone

    Matthew Stone is a Professor of Computer Science at SAS, Rutgers-New Brunswick and currently serves as department chair. He holds a joint appointment in the Rutgers Center for Cognitive Science. He has been at Rutgers since finishing his PhD in Computer and Information Science at the University of Pennsylvania in 1998. His research focuses on discourse, dialogue and natural language generation; he is particularly interested in leveraging models of meaning to make interactive computer systems easier to build and more human-like in their behavior. He is a co-PI on Rutgers DATA-INSPIRE TRIPODS Institute in Data Science and participated in the SAS working group launching the university’s new undergraduate Data Science programs.




    Wade Trappe Photo

    Wade Trappe

    Wade Trappe is the Associate Dean of Academic Programs and Research for the School of Engineering, Rutgers-New Brunswick. He received his Ph.D. in Applied Mathematics and Scientific Computing from the University of Maryland in 2002 and is a Fellow of the IEEE, Professor in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at Rutgers University, and Associate Director of the Wireless Information Network Laboratory (WINLAB). He has led many federally-funded projects in cybersecurity and wireless technologies, including the development of wireless testbed resources (ORBIT testbed), and the DARPA RadioMap, SSPARC and Wireless Network Defense programs. He was the Principal Investigator for the original DARPA Spectrum Challenge. His current research examines problems at the intersection of communications and medicine, including modeling different biological systems with the goal of identifying new therapeutic strategies and applying AI/ML to personalize medical treatments.

  • The availability of safe, healthy, and affordable housing is foremost among the social determinants of health. The nation’s history of uneven metropolitan development and housing discrimination has driven deep health disparities among minority, immigrant, and low-income populations. Four new hires, three faculty, and one post-doctoral fellow in Housing and Health Equity will develop Rutgers’s multi-disciplinary approach to successfully address housing as a driver of health inequities by forging new collaborations between the School of Social Work, the School of Environmental and Biological SciencesEdward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy (EJBSPP), and the Institute for Health at the Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences campus.

    Cluster Hires:

      Cluster Champions:

      Emmy Tiderington, Associate Professor, School of Social Work (Champion), and Joel Cantor, Distinguished Professor, Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy and Director, Center for State Health Policy (Center/CSHP) at IFH (co-Champion)


      Emmy Tiderington Photo

      Emmy Tiderington

      Emmy Tiderington is an Associate Professor in the School of Social Work and Associate Faculty at the Institute for Health, Health Care Policy, and Aging Research at Rutgers-New Brunswick. Her research focuses on recovery in homeless services, as well as the implementation and effectiveness of housing programs and support for homeless populations with complex needs. This work has been funded by Federal, State, local, and private funders, including the National Institute of Mental Health, the State of New Jersey, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services. She serves on the School of Social Work's Inclusion, Intersectionality, Diversity, Equity, and Advancement (IIDEA) Committee and teaches courses on mental health policy and practice, as well as on housing inequality and homelessness.




      Joel Cantor

      Joel Cantor

      Joel Cantor is a Distinguished Professor of Public Policy at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Public Policy and founding Director of the Center for State Health Policy at Rutgers-New Brunswick. Dr. Cantor is a widely published scholar on issues of health equity with a focus on health insurance regulatory policy and innovative health service delivery and policy strategies for the Medicaid program. His current research addresses the contribution of homelessness to healthcare disparities and the potential of supportive housing for mitigating those disparities. He serves frequently as an advisor on health policy matters to the New Jersey state government and is recipient of the Rutgers University President’s award for Research in Service to New Jersey. In 2019, Dr. Cantor was elected to the National Academy of Social Insurance.   He earned his doctorate in health policy and management from the Johns Hopkins University, School of Public Health.


    • The goal of this cluster is to accelerate the growth of Rutgers University-Newark as a regional and national center of excellence in Latinx Studies. The Identities, Injustice, and Power in the Latinx Diaspora Cluster will recruit five new faculty members to conduct innovative social science research on the ways that power has been, and continues to be, used against and used by Latinx communities to reshape their identities, their access to power and resources, and the landscapes in which they live. Priority will be given to hiring social scientists who use quantitative, qualitative (e.g., ethnographic), and digital methods to examine: 1. Past and present relations between Black Atlantic, South Asian, and indigenous communities throughout the Caribbean and the Americas and the ways that contact between these communities have informed Latinx ethnoracial identities and inter and intragroup relations across the diaspora; 2. International policy, (neo)colonialism, environmental injustice and their impacts on (im)migration and forced displacement in the Latinx diaspora; 3. Structural inequalities (e.g., structural racism, linguistic inequality) and their implications for the psychosocial, educational, health, and economic welfare of diasporic Latinx youth and adults; and 4. Factors influencing Latinx political and sociopolitical development (e.g., political attitudes, political identities, voting behaviors) and the implications of these developments for the reshaping of global electoral politics. The cluster will draw from four departments in the School of Arts & Sciences-Newark: Political Science, Sociology and Anthropology, Urban Education, and American Studies.

      Cluster Hires:

      Cluster Champion: 

      Jennifer Austin, Professor, Spanish and Portuguese Studies, Rutgers-Newark

      Professor Jennifer Austin Photo

      Jennifer Austin

      Jennifer Austin is a Professor of Spanish and Portuguese Studies at Rutgers-Newark. Her research and teaching interests include language acquisition and multilingualism as well as Hispanic and Basque linguistics. Austin is a member of the graduate faculty in Psychology and in Global Urban Studies at Rutgers-Newark as well as in Spanish and Portuguese at Rutgers-New Brunswick. She is also a co-founder of HoLa, a dual-language charter school in Hoboken, NJ, and a co-founder and the faculty advisor of the Lives in Translation Project at Rutgers-Newark.

    • Five new cluster hires will build capacity in students’ ability to use data-driven methods to address complex problems in the sciences, building upon and supporting the exponential growth of the SASN minor in Data Science. The initiative aims to attract scientists from diverse backgrounds who address complex problems using advanced statistical techniques (e.g., clustering techniques, network analysis), machine learning, predictive analytics, and causal modeling. The cluster intends both to strengthen and diversify the advanced curriculum in data sciences available to students and to serve as a crucible for engaging students in mentored research with faculty. Priority will be given to scholars who have demonstrated that they can effectively teach courses in their discipline as well as courses that fit broadly under the rubrics of applied data science, applied statistics, and or applied computational science; and scholars who have demonstrated a commitment to mentoring undergraduate students. All STEM departments will be eligible to participate in this cluster hire initiative.

      Cluster Champion: 

      Kristina KeatingAssociate Professor, Earth and Environmental Sciences, Rutgers-Newark

      kristina keating

      Kristina Keating

      Kristina Keating is an Associate Professor of near-surface geophysics in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Rutgers University-Newark. Her research focuses on laboratory and field based geophysical measurements to understand processes occurring in the top 100 m’s of Earth’s surface. Her research spans critical zone science, hydrogeophysics, cryosphere geophysics, biogeophysics, and soil science. She is also actively involved in science education research to engage students from groups historically underrepresented in the geosciences.




    • Health equity is central to the interdisciplinary field of Prevention Sciences, which “focuses on the development of evidence-based strategies that reduce risk factors and enhance protective factors to improve the health and wellbeing of individuals, families, and communities” (National Prevention Science Coalition). Since the most challenging social and structural problems influencing health outcomes and quality of life rarely fit within the confines of traditional disciplines, Prevention Science is also inherently interdisciplinary. Rutgers University-Camden will recruit four new cluster faculty to advance a range of research collaborations across six different programs in three schools on the Camden Campus:  Health Sciences, Psychology, Childhood Studies, and Criminal Justice (all within the Camden College of Arts and Sciences); the School of Nursing-Camden; and the School of Business-Camden. These collaborations will serve as foundations for research and teaching in Prevention Sciences and will support the launch of a forthcoming interdisciplinary research center and new graduate program. 

      Cluster Hires:

      Cluster Champion: 

      Kristin August, Associate Professor, Department of Psychology and Health Sciences Center, Rutgers-Camden


      Kristin August, Rutgers

      Kristin August

      Kristin August is an Associate Professor of Psychology and Core Faculty Member of the Health Sciences Center at Rutgers University - Camden.

      Her main research focus is on the link between personal relationships and health in diverse populations, such as individuals with chronic illness, older adults, racial/ethnic minorities, sexual minorities, and individuals with disabilities.

      She teaches courses in health psychology, psychology of aging, health sciences, and research methods.

    • Sustainability addresses how human beings interact with their habitat and each other in the process of finding, procuring, and utilizing the planet’s resources. This cluster hire is a collaborative enterprise and will culminate in the development of a multidisciplinary Sustainability cluster whose mission is to identify and characterize connections between economic, industrial, and environmental systems while synthesizing new methods and materials to foster equity in environmental impacts and outcomes across all community types within New Jersey and beyond.  Four new hires will be made across all ranks in the Department of Chemistry, (FASC), the Department of Mathematical Sciences (FASC), the Department of Physics (FASC), and the School of Business.

      Cluster Hires:

      Cluster Champion: 

      Lead Cluster Champion:

      Sean M. O’Malley, Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Physics, FASC


      Siqi Fu, Professor, and Chair, Department of Mathematical Sciences, FASC; Catherine Grgicak, Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Chemistry, FASC, and Richard A. Michelfelder, Associate Professor of Professional Practice, Finance, School of Business, Rutgers-Camden


      Sean O'Malley Photo

      Sean M. O’Malley

      Sean M. O’Malley, Associate Professor, and Chair, Department of Physics, FASC. His research interests include the synthesis of nanoparticles via the Pulsed Laser Ablation in Liquids (PLAL) method, thin-film deposition using Matrix Assisted Pulsed Laser Evaporation (MAPLE), photovoltaic and piezoelectric activity in novel material systems, and the interaction between plasmonically excited metal nanoparticles with their surroundings.





      Siqi Fu Photo

      Siqi Fu

      Siqi Fu is a Professor and Chair of the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Rutgers University-Camden. The main focus of his research is the spectral theory of partial differential operators and geometric analysis of several complex variables. Dr. Fu is particularly interested in the interplay between spectral behavior of the complex Laplace operator and geometric structures of the underlying space. He is also fascinated by the connection between mathematics and music.  His research is supported in part by grants from the National Science Foundation. Dr. Fu obtained his Ph.D. degree in Mathematics from Washington University in St. Louis. He was a recipient of an American Mathematical Society Centennial Research Fellowship in 2000.

      Catherine Grgicak Photo

      Catherine Grgicak

      Catherine Grgicak (Gerg-i-chuck) is an Associate Professor, Henry Rutgers Chair, and Department Chair of the Department of Chemistry at Rutgers University in Camden NJ. She received her B.S. in Physical Science and B.Ed. from the University of Windsor, her M.S.F.S. from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and her Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of Ottawa. Her Laboratory for Forensic Technology and Integration is focused on developing systems and procedures that improve forensically relevant bio-analytical processes. She is a member of the Journal of Forensic Science’s editorial board, the editorial board of Electrophoresis, Forensic Laboratory Needs Technical Working Group, Expert Working Group on Human Factors in DNA Interpretation, American Society of Forensic Sciences, the International Society of Forensic Genetics and the Center for Computational and Integrative Biology at Rutgers University.




      Richard Michelfeler Photo

      Richard A. Michelfelder

      Richard A. Michelfelder, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Professional Practice, Finance, at the School of Business – Camden. His research and advisement to energy and water/wastewater utilities globally focus on sustainability in energy and water. At Rutgers, he has been awarded many research grants and teaching awards, including the President’s Excellence Award. Previously, Dr. Michelfelder was CEO and Board Chairperson of Quantum Consulting, Inc., a national public utility consulting firm, and Quantum Energy Services and Technologies, LLC., an energy and water efficiency services company based in Berkeley, California. He has testified many times before state regulatory agencies and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commissions on issues related to the cost of capital, energy efficiency, water load research, cost of service, and incentive rate mechanisms for energy efficiency. He has published numerous articles specifically addressing public utilities and climate change. He holds the Ph.D. in economics from Fordham University.