Upgrading the departmental system at Lahore College for Women University (LCWU), Punjab-Pakistan
Dr. Asifa Kamal is an Associate Professor and Chair of the Statistics Department at Lahore College for Women University (LCWU), Punjab, Pakistan. She has been associated with LCWU for just over 23 years, spanning nearly her entire professional career.
Kamal was promoted to the position of department chair in January 2021, and she eagerly accepted the responsibility with the ambition to initiate a Ph.D. program in Statistics, forge national and international collaborations, and promote research culture in the department.
“I was also interested in helping my faculty win projects and grants, and to generate resources to provide financial support for the students. An increase in students’ enrollment in the various programs of the Statistics department was also one of my objectives,” said Kamal.
As a department chair, she notes that one of her major challenges is time management. The lack of necessary physical and human resources in the department is another hindrance, which results in fewer research and grant writing activities due to managerial assignments as a chair and as a senior faculty member at LCWU.
In May 2022, Kamal was nominated by the Vice Chancellor of LCWU to attend the Department Chairs’ training under USAID’s Higher Education System Strengthening Activity (HESSA). This was the first time she had participated in a program designed specifically for the department heads. Since then, she has been associated with various HESSA programs.
This training program emphasizes the role departmental chairs play as leaders, not just managers. The participants were required to prepare departmental plans. “For the very first time, I was able to learn about the strategic planning of a department. I prepared a strategic plan of the Statistics department with the guidance of an international mentor,” shared Kamal.
Her team was struggling to bridge the gap between industry and academia. As an initial step, she formed an industrial advisory board comprised of internal and external stakeholders.
Kamal accompanied the delegation of department chairs to the University of Utah in 2023, for a one-week exposure visit where they attended various lectures and met with U.S. academic leadership to learn from their experiences. This was a life-changing experience for Kamal. She noted that the training program transformed her approach to leadership.
“Trainers shared their best practices as a departmental chair and we started thinking, ‘how can we implement those in local scenarios?’ It changed my attitude toward students. I started thinking more about their well-being, and their placement in the job market. I also learned good strategies to manage conflict in the department,” she explained.
Some of the new practices or structures Kamal recently introduced at LCWU through HESSA’s support are described below.
Setting the Direction and Focus of Department
The strategic plan of LCWU’s Statistics department was developed and currently, her team is working on its implementation. Vision statement of the Statistics department was revisited through a consultative process, while the mission statement and core values of the department were updated. After necessary approvals, the mission, vision, and core values will be adopted by the department and the strategic plan will be uploaded on LCWU website.
Enhancing the Employability Potential of Graduates by Improving their Capacities and Skills
Step1: An Industrial Advisory Board (IAB) for the Statistics department was formed and two meetings were conducted. The first meeting was organized on 3 November, 2022 and the second meeting on 7 December, 2023.
Step 2: The curriculum was revised by incorporating suggestions of IAB according to market demand to enhance the employability of graduates by improving their data analysis capacities using different statistical software skills. New courses were introduced during Fall 2023 at B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. levels, following emerging trends in Statistics and Data Science, and keeping in view the required skill sets.
Step 3: Faculty members of the Statistics department were trained to teach the new courses by organizing multiple workshops from relevant experts/resource persons at LCWU.
Enhancing Students’ Exposure to the Job Market
A member of IAB, from Punjab Bureau of Statistics (PBS) facilitated a visit of students on October 17, 2023. It provided students with practical insights into the operations of the Punjab Bureau of Statistics and real-world applications of statistical methodologies. A question-and-answer session provided students with the opportunity to seek and gain deeper insights into statistical work and the challenges faced by the PBS.
The educational tour provided students with practical exposure, enhanced their knowledge, and inspired them to consider a career in statistics and data analysis. It was also an effort to bridge the gap between academia and real-world applications, nurturing a future generation of informed and motivated professionals. The bureau offered students opportunities to work with them as enumerators for various surveys in Punjab. LCWU has signed an MoU with the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics that will help develop internship opportunities for its students. Another MoU as signed between the Department of Statistics, LCWU and Mizan Teppi University, Ethiopia.
Coordination with Career Counselling and Job Placement (CCJP) Centre, LCWU
A focal person from the Statistics department was nominated to coordinate with CCJP. A one-day seminar on “CV Writing” was organized by the Statistical Society LCWU for the students of the Statistics department on November 27, 2023. It was a great opportunity for the students and faculty members of LCWU to learn how to craft an impressive CV.
Addressing Wellbeing of Students and Faculty Members of the Department
Another focal person was nominated from the faculty to coordinate with the psychologist at LCWU for counseling services for students and faculty members. An awareness session, titled “Managing Daily Life Hassles and Ways to Enhance Wellbeing” was organized on November 8, 2023 for the students and faculty members of the Statistics department that guided the audience about making choices and dealing with daily life challenges.
Engaging with LCWU Alumni
The department is working on strengthening the connection between the department and alumni. Community groups on social media have been generated as the initial step to share information, opportunities, and updates from the department. The team is also working on gathering success stories from alumni of the department to build a rapport.
Introducing the Concept of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in the Department
A visit was organized for the faculty of the Statistics department at Aziz Jahan Begum Trust for Blind Students to learn about teaching methodologies that can help faculty to teach students with visual impairment.
Inspired by the learnings of diversity and inclusion through HESSA’s program, Dr. Asifa Kamal as a principal investigator, submitted a project titled “A Step Ahead towards Diversity and Inclusivity: Facilitating Learning of Basic Mathematics and Basic Statistics to Blind Girls at Lahore College for Women University, Lahore, Pakistan”. The objective of this project is to generate resources in the form of braille books and other supporting materials that can facilitate the learning of blind students. This proposal won a grant of $4,000 USD from Elsevier 2023 Mathematical Sciences Sponsorship Fund (MSFF 2023).
As far as the sustainability of these initiatives is concerned, Kamal is ensuring their continuation by assigning focal persons to deal with each process including: strategic planning of the department, IAB, student wellbeing, and student career counselling, and this is officially notified within the departmental organogram.
After every training, Kamal has made a system of cascading the learning to other faculty members in her department. Sustainability can be achieved by empowering successors.
LCWU has managed to replicate HESSA trainings by delivering the material to all departmental chairs and senior faculty members with the support of the Vice Chancellor. This has helped generate a culture of acceptance in bringing change to all departments of LCWU. Departments that have adopted positive initiatives through HESSA’s support are now modeling this change for others.
Kamal took the lead and disseminated training to other departmental chairs of LCWU and she has observed that LCWU is advancing towards the culture of change in the existing system of education.
For other HESSA participants, her tip for success is, “I make a list of doable actions from every training and focus on implementing those actions by engaging all faculty members of the department. I organize meetings to share the learnings with a larger group, and together we deliberate on ideas that can be implemented with limited facilities and resources.”
To conclude, Kamal remarked, “I appreciate HESSA and the University of Utah from the core of my heart for all efforts to strengthen the higher education system of Pakistan.”