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Centered around deep learner engagement and faculty-mentored research, the School of Science at The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) helps students learn to be scientists and mathematicians through collaborative partnerships with teacher-scholars. Regarded as one of 15 public higher-education institutions with the highest graduation rates leading to high incomes, this approach has proven to be successful in creating top talent who enter the workforce and become leaders in their chosen disciplines. To continue to expand this dynamic learning and research community, TCNJ welcomed Dr. Sunita G. Kramer as their dean of the School of Science in July 2022. “What really excited me about stepping into this role at one of the top comprehensive colleges in the nation is the opportunity to create new ways to collaborate across multiple departments and schools,” says Kramer. “Innovation often happens at the boundaries of disciplines and by finding avenues that combine our strengths and inspire cross-disciplinary ways of thinking, we’re able to enhance the learning experience for our students.”

Diversity Drives Innovation

Prior to joining TCNJ, Dr. Kramer served 12 years as faculty at Rutgers University, held the role of assistant vice provost and associate vice president, and was the founding associate academic dean of the Honors College at Rutgers-New Brunswick. In addition, she created and directed a four-year program integrating research, design, and entrepreneurial thinking into the undergraduate experience at Rutgers called the Innovation, Design, & Entrepreneurship Academy (IDEA). Throughout Dr. Kramer’s career, she has been passionate about promoting increased diversity, equity, and inclusion and increasing the number of college degrees awarded to populations underrepresented in STEM disciplines. “Diversity is a key driver of innovation,” says Kramer. “Companies, think tanks, and problem solvers are recognizing that the more diverse a team, the more successful they are at coming up with new ideas. I believe New Jersey’s diversity is an integral part of why this state has such a strong innovation ecosystem. As a state school, TCNJ is committed to making sure our student body mirrors our population and an important part of our agenda in the School of Science is promoting access and inclusion throughout our community.”

When Dr. Kramer stepped into her new role at TCNJ, she joined six other women who are current academic deans at the institution, an uncommon occurrence in higher education leadership. “When I was in college and graduate school, I got to know some of the women leaders who had to work harder and smarter, despite the conditions,” shares Kramer. “I think they were often seen as the exception to the rule and often had to give up parts of their life to have a successful career. We are working to change that narrative and support scientific leaders who can also be a parent, spouse, partner, and member of their community.”

Dr. Kramer continues, “We still have a lot of work to do in expanding opportunities for women and minorities in STEM. There is still a large gender imbalance and we see a big drop off across the country where women in STEM fields at the college level are not completing their degree. We’re trying to better understand where this gap comes from and how to remove these barriers. Studies are showing that we need to be more proactive at the middle school level and create environments where all genders feel welcome to explore these fields. With equal representation and a diverse group of people, we broaden our perspectives and have more opportunities for discoveries that are impactful, useful, and exciting.”

“What really excited me about stepping into this role at one of the top comprehensive colleges in the nation is the opportunity to create new ways to collaborate across multiple departments and schools,” says Kramer. “Innovation often happens at the boundaries of disciplines and by finding avenues that combine our strengths and inspire cross-disciplinary ways of thinking, we’re able to enhance the learning experience for our students.”

Dr. Sunita G. Kramer
Dean of Science
The college of New Jersey

Achieving Academic Excellence

TCNJ is dedicated to helping students gain the technical, intellectual, and collaborative skill sets that are in high demand after graduation, and because of this mission, more than 95% of recent TCNJ graduates are employed or in graduate or professional school one year after graduation. “I was very impressed by the strong academic preparation of the students at TCNJ and the research experience gained throughout their chosen program,” shares Kramer. “The College has a strong record of academic excellence, especially in the School of Science, and I would like to further build upon that distinction and become better connected with the innovation happening in New Jersey. Many pharma, biotech, and health companies continue to come to the State and my vision is to create a talent pipeline where our students are highly skilled and equipped for the innovative jobs of the future. I would like to continue to build pathways where TCNJ’s talent pool is directly aligned with the opportunities in the region and beyond.”

To support academic excellence and elevate research-based learning, the research facilities at TCNJ are designed to maximize collaborative learning among students and faculty. “The facilities in the School of Science are on par with what is seen at research universities,” says Kramer. “My goal is to further raise TCNJ’s competitiveness in the research space by helping our students connect their research experiences with how they will apply that knowledge following graduation. As a primarily undergraduate institution (PUI), we often get overlooked in the research space, when in fact, our faculty is doing cutting-edge research with federal funding. We must find ways to get our students who are using advanced equipment and are well versed in research methods to embrace their talents so they can connect with more jobs and opportunities. To continue to make our mark in the research arena, we must share our story and raise awareness about the incredible research we’re integrating throughout the undergraduate experience.”

“We also plan to foster innovation by growing our research infrastructure to better support research development and empower our teacher-scholars as they work to advance science and prepare the next generation of STEM leaders,” Kramer continues. “In doing so, I think we’re able to strengthen our acquisition of external grants and the advanced tools and resources available to our research community. An important driver of this mission is our Office of Grants and Sponsored Research (OGSR), which is focused on facilitating an institution-wide environment for learning and innovation and building more connections with research partners and regional companies. Recent hires in our Advancement division targeting government, community, corporate, and foundation relations will support synergistic work by Advancement and OGSR as we create even more and broader avenues of engagement locally, regionally, and across the country in support of TCNJ’s mission.”

“An important aspect of the mission of EdgeDiscovery is to facilitate multi-campus collaborations and partnerships to advance the frontiers of research and innovation; providing the ability for transformative impact on the research communities in institutions such as TCNJ.”

Forough Ghahramani, Ed.D.
Assistant Vice President for Research, Innovation, and Sponsored Programs

Leveraging the HPC Environment

With high-performance computing (HPC) having a transformative and growing importance in both research and education, TCNJ leverages their HPC cluster ELSA, or the Electronic Laboratory for Science and Analysis, to enhance the current and future computational needs of the College’s science programs. “High-performance computing had a substantial impact on the research productivity of our faculty and we’re using the cluster in our curriculum to teach our students about chemical modeling and molecular visualization. Since not all of our students have the same computer, we are looking for ways to leverage the computing power of ELSA to give any student access, regardless of their device. Our long-term vision is to use our computing cluster to improve every School of Science student’s literacy in data science and data visualization and modeling to make them a more data literate, well-rounded scientist.”

With a dedicated space in the STEM building, ELSA is a top priority and is well supported by the advisory committee and HPC System Administrator who manages the HPC system, network, and storage, provides user support and training, and conducts site management. “Our HPC cluster is used by many students each semester and is involved in several high-impact publications,” explains Kramer. “ELSA is also integrated into our open science grid to provide resources to the broader research community. We will continue to identify new and innovative ways that we can leverage the computing cluster and expand the reach to other departments and disciplines. We’d also like to invite members of our community and K-12 schools to workshops that will use HPC to showcase how inspiring and impactful STEM research can be.”

Building Future-Forward Partnerships

Through the partnership with Edge, Dr. Kramer says TCNJ looks forward to further building its network within the research and education community and collaborating with other thought leaders who wish to advance innovation and discovery. “Edge’s connection with other research institutions and organizations in the community is extremely valuable and we look forward to sharing our knowledge and resources, as well as tapping into the experience and expertise of our peers. New Jersey has an amazing innovation ecosystem and it’s organizations like Edge that help facilitate these important connections where we all work together to advance research initiatives and fuel scientific and intellectual breakthroughs.”