By Peter Murphy
Published March 31, 2023
"The program inspires me to look broader and be bolder,” says School of Engineering and Applied Sciences researcher Marina Blanton on her recent completion of Drexel University’s Executive Leadership in Academic Technology, Engineering and Science (ELATES) Fellowship, a national leadership development program designed to promote senior women faculty members as leaders in STEM.
“It encourages me to look beyond my current roles, plan for what the next, more ambitious roles might be, and learn new skills to succeed in them,” says Blanton, associate professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering. “My future roles might be serving as department chair or leading a large research project or center.”
ELATES promotes both senior women faculty and “faculty allies of all genders, in leadership for academic engineering, computer science and other STEM fields into effective institutional leadership roles within their schools and universities with a demonstrated commitment to increasing the representation of women in STEM,” according to Drexel University.
The intensive, yearlong, part-time program provides training and development for faculty and administrators. Throughout the program, ELATES fellows improve their personal and professional leadership, learn to understand and navigate organizational dynamics, and expand their strategic finance and resource management knowledge. Blanton, who is also faculty director of UB’s Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE) program, says the program structure, her career trajectory and discussions with ELATES staff are what enticed her to enter the program.
The program includes three in-residence sessions of 5-6 days, where fellows enhance their knowledge and skills in higher education business practices, project management with diverse stakeholders and effective communication in several leadership platforms. Participation in the program builds a network of leaders who can support each other throughout their careers.
ELATES includes on-the-job application of these skills at each fellow’s home institution, as well. During the program, Blanton was mentored by UB School of Engineering and Applied Sciences Dean Kemper Lewis.
"Marina has consistently stepped up to serve in leadership roles in the school and in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering. Being selected for and completing the prestigious ELATES program is incredibly significant,” says Lewis. “It has been especially encouraging to witness Marina’s growth, not just during her time in the program, but during her tenure at UB. Her future in academia and academic leadership is promising. We’re committed to promoting women in STEM and supporting their participation in important programs like ELATES.”
One of the main components of the program, according to Blanton, involved gaining insight into her home university and its leadership.
“The main components consist of learning about my university through interviews with upper administration, conducting exercises to learn new skills, as well as setting individual leadership development goals and working toward them. The program also includes conducting a project at my institution and consequently presenting its results at a leadership forum,” Blanton says.
She and 29 other faculty members and administrators from universities throughout the United States and Canada completed the program earlier this month. Despite finishing the program, Blanton believes the work will continue.
“I am continuing to learn about the university structure and advance in my individual development goals. Perhaps the most significant takeaway for me was learning there is a vast amount of resources to help with new aspects of our jobs and we can rely on prior knowledge,” Blanton says. “Utilizing resources and seeking advice can make us successful faster. If someone hasn’t been successful at a task in the past, it doesn’t mean they cannot be successful. It is about being strategic in your pursuit. Setting a goal and consistently taking steps toward the goal.”
In addition to her roles as an associate professor and faculty director of WiSE, Blanton serves as faculty advisor to DivTech, a UB student organization whose mission is to promote diversity in technology. Blanton has served on university-wide committees overseeing potential structural changes at UB, and she serves on the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences tenure and promotions committee. Blanton is also a senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and received the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) faculty award in 2022.
Blanton’s research interests focus on information security, privacy and applied cryptography. Her research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, Air Force Research Laboratory, Air Force Office of Scientific Research and Google.
Prior to joining UB in 2017, Blanton was an assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Notre Dame and a research scientist at the Air Force Research Laboratory in Rome, N.Y.