Professor R. Lee Penn receives UMN Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Award

MINNEAPOLIS/ST. PAUL (1/18/2023) – Professor R. Lee Penn was awarded the 2022 Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) Award alongside two other University of Minnesota educators. JEDI Awards honor faculty members who have done significant research, teaching, and/or service to advance justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion at the University and in our community. The award amount of $10,000 is meant to support the advancement of equity work; provide funding in recognition of the value of that work; and showcase critical scholarship, pedagogy, and community engagement.

Since Penn’s arrival at the University of Minnesota as a faculty member in 2001, they have been committed to emboldening outreach and advocacy efforts for students, staff, postdocs, and faculty who hold marginalized identities. Penn is an effective instructor and facilitator for workshops addressing topics from intersectionality, bullying, implicit bias, micro-aggressions, serving as effective allies, LGBTQ+ identities, gender equity, and more. They share this knowledge and expertise, giving lectures and leading workshops nationally. This advocacy also includes serving as informal adviser and mentor to the Out in Science and Engineering (o-STEM) student group, and mentoring several gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer (GLBTQ) identified students studying science, technology, engineering and math through the University’s Gender and Sexuality Center for Queer and Trans Life year-long mentoring program. At the departmental level, they served as the founding chair of the Department of Chemistry’s Diversity Committee and are also a mental health advocate. 

Chemistry Department Head David Blank writes of Penn’s work: “Prof. Penn tirelessly, generously, and passionately works to improve diversity within STEM fields. They have had an outsized impact on diversity and the LGBTQ+ community in science and engineering through direct mentorship, support, and a broad dedication to education of both the students and the instructors. They have been instrumental in creating a more welcoming environment for a diverse group of scientists and engineers.” 

In addition to their 2022 JEDI Award, Penn’s work supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion has garnered a Community Excellence Award from the University of Minnesota’s Gender and Sexuality Center for Queer and Trans Life, Charlotte Striebel Equity Award from the University Office for Equity and Diversity’s Women’s Center, and the Breaking the Silence Award from the University of Minnesota's Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Ally Programs Office.

Prof. Penn is a Distinguished McKnight University Professor, the Department of Chemistry Director of Undergraduate Studies, an American Chemical Society Fellow, and an Institute on the Environment Fellow. They lead an interdisciplinary research program that focuses on environmental solid state chemistry,  nanocystalline materials, and geochemical cycling. The Penn group also works to support the design and implementation of effective STEM programs and curriculum for middle school and high school students and teachers.