EDI Spotlight: Johnna Frierson, PhD


Since 2015, Johnna Frierson has worked in various roles at Duke with one main goal in mind: creating a more diverse and equitable environment for students and trainees interested in careers in STEM and the basic sciences. She will now broaden that work, reaching more areas within the School of Medicine community, as the newly appointed associate dean for equity, diversity, and inclusion in the basic sciences. For this month’s EDI Spotlight interview, Frierson gives us a look into this new role and shares her plans to continue her work with the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Advancement, and Leadership in the Sciences (IDEALS) Office. And she tells us a little about her love of being outdoors and spending time with her two children. 

What are your primary responsibilities as the inaugural associate dean for equity, diversity, and inclusion in the basic sciences? What does a typical day for you look like?

My primary responsibilities in this new role are to partner with basic science departments to strengthen retention, recruitment, and belonging of faculty and trainees; provide leadership for EDI training and education; and collaborate with EDI departmental representatives and others to expand and enrich community-building efforts.

My days vary greatly from one to the next and can include giving a lecture or leading a training, reviewing policy to determine how/if it can be more equitable for members of the School of Medicine community, or reading the latest in the STEM education or DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) interventions literature.

My focus right now is to meet with leaders and constituents to discuss what needs the basic science departments have specifically at the faculty-level since this represents a new component of my portfolio. I'm excited to take on this new responsibility and am committed to doing all that I can to support sustainable and significant forward movement in our efforts.

When and how did you begin working to improve equity, diversity, and inclusion within Duke? 

My first role at Duke University was in the Pratt School of Engineering as the inaugural director of Diversity and Inclusion in 2015. Over the past seven years through formal and informal roles I've had the opportunity to develop and implement new recruitment programs and partnerships to diversify our STEM graduate populations, obtain funding to enhance career and research skills development of students from historically underrepresented backgrounds, and work along with campus and School of Medicine leaders to define strategic priorities to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion.

How is your office or department currently working to address issues relating to equity, diversity, and inclusion? 

My vision for the IDEALS office has always been that we serve as a partner and collaborator to the Basic Sciences and School of Medicine community using a data-driven and tailored approach informed by the literature. In my new role as associate dean, I will continue to lead the IDEALS office, expanding the scope of our work from graduate students and postdoctoral trainees to include faculty-level initiatives as well.

Over the past three years we've partnered in a number of ways, including meeting with research groups to craft a lab community statement, brainstorming and consulting to develop outreach opportunities and activities, or meeting with departmental EDI committees to identify successes and challenges of their efforts and share resources to support the work.

I am very excited to expand our reach through the recently developed Duke Next Generation Leaders initiative which will provide a mechanism for the SOM to make meaningful and much needed strides forward in the realm of faculty diversity and inclusive excellence. Overall, my goal is to ensure that every endeavor ultimately connects to the four pillars of the IDEALS office by enhancing infrastructure, consistency, accountability, and belonging to effectively advance EDI in the School of Medicine community.

What passions or hobbies do you have outside of work? 

Outside of work I raise my two wonderful children, Aaron (6) and Elyse (9) and enjoy exploring and finding new fun activities to do with them. My hobbies include hiking and kayaking when I have the time, and collecting Marvel superhero figures, specifically Funkopops!

Frierson enjoys a day outdoors with her children Aaron and Elyse.