Faculty Recruiting Support CICS

Erika Dawson Head Receives Chancellor’s Emerging Leader Award

Erika Dawson Head (right) pictured with her mother (left)
Erika Dawson Head (right) pictured with her mother (left)

Manning College of Information and Computer Sciences (CICS) Executive Director of Diversity and Inclusive Community Development Erika Dawson Head has received the inaugural Chancellor’s Emerging Leader Award, presented at the Day of Racial Healing Brunch on January 30.  

The award, one of two new Chancellor’s Leadership Awards, recognizes a student, faculty, or staff member demonstrating a commitment to campus efforts to advance equity, inclusion, and access in a meaningful way at UMass Amherst. Emerging Leader awardees have a proven record of leading programs and initiatives that facilitate improvements to the experiences of marginalized and underrepresented groups on campus and must have spent less than ten years at UMass. 

Support for Dawson Head’s nomination for Emerging Leader was widespread—she received letters of support from faculty, professional research staff, student support staff, and alumni. Nominators cited Dawson Head’s foundational work in Manning CICS and as the director of the Massenberg Summer STEM program, a free residential summer pre-college program for rising 10th-grade students from underserved communities in New Jersey and Massachusetts.  

“[Erika] built an office, a permanent structure in our college, and more than that, she built a haven for every identity historically not represented [in the world of computing],” one letter stated. “[She] exudes sincere joy in exploring a shared humanity with others and in raising up those who might otherwise stay quiet while feeling minoritized in a space,” said another nominator.”  

“As a Black woman in higher education, I, like many others, have often felt invisible,” says Dawson Head. “It was a wonderful honor to have my accomplishments recognized and celebrated as a member of our beautiful UMass community. Dr. Michelle Trim, Michael and Mirian Weir, and many other staff, faculty members, and students helped me to see my value. I am forever changed and proud to be the inaugural recipient of this award.” 

Dawson Head’s tenure at CICS has been marked by several significant contributions to fostering a diverse and inclusive academic environment. At the forefront of this effort, she played a key role in establishing the CICS Office of Diversity and Inclusive Community Development, collaborating with faculty and college leadership, as well as university administration to review and expand existing policies and procedures.  

Beyond her administrative endeavors, Dawson Head has actively championed outreach and recruitment strategies designed to enhance diversity among CICS faculty, undergraduate, and graduate cohorts. Notably, she has served as a consultant on numerous faculty-led grants, including, most recently, serving on a cross-campus team awarded a five-year, $2.5 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Driving Change initiative. 

Under Dawson Head’s leadership, the number of student organizations more than doubled and increased exponentially the communities they serve inside and outside the college’s community. She served as founding advisor for several student organizations within CICS, each geared toward supporting marginalized identities in computing; among them are Hack(H)er413, Western Massachusetts’ first all-women and nonbinary student hackathon, and the Voices of Data Science Conference.  She also co-founded the FIERCE (Fostering Inclusion by Engaging in Real-world Computing Education) residential academic program at UMass Amherst, which aims to provide an inclusive community for computer science and informatics students who identify as women, non-binary, LGBTQIA, other historically marginalized racial identities in technology, and their allies.  

Partnering with founder Sarah Cherry Rice, Dawson Head provided supplementary support and housing for students in Digital Ready’s Year 13 program on the Mount Ida Campus of UMass Amherst. The program offers pathways to STEM degrees for recent and soon-to-be graduates from underrepresented backgrounds in Boston Public Schools.  

Dawson Head joined CICS in 2018. In addition to her work to foster diversity and inclusion on campus, she has contributed to various community organizations, including serving as a commissioner for the City of New Britain, CT, a board member of the organization Q+ Uplifting and Empowering Queer Youth, and actively participating in initiatives like the True Colors Conference for LGBT Youth and the Tri-state Diversity Committee. She was a co-recipient of the 2020 CICS Outstanding Staff Achievement Award.