A shared road map for diversity

10/15/2012 - By: Jane Tors
Reg Chhen Stewart Reg Chhen Stewart, the University’s director of diversity initiatives and director of the University’s successful Student Cultural Diversity Center.

When it comes to diversity, important gains have been made across the Nevada System of Higher Education. The NSHE Northern Nevada Diversity Summit, held Oct. 11 at the University's Joe Crowley Student Union, focused on the opportunity ahead: how to sustain the momentum, identify and implement evidenced-based practices and strengthen collaboration across stakeholders, communities and institutions.

The Diversity Summit brought together about 150 representatives of all five northern NSHE institutions, neighboring school districts and community organizations for the purpose of opening new dialog about diversity and creating effective, supportive educational paths for underrepresented students.

"It was great to see so many people in one room engaged and taking the day to focus on diversity," said Cedric Crear, member of the NSHE Board of Regents and chair of the Regents' Cultural Diversity Committee. "It reiterated the importance of the diversity to the system and to the state."

"Higher education institutions, community-based organizations and our school districts - all of us - have had multiple conversations about improving the pipeline for our underrepresented students," said Reg Chhen Stewart, the University's director of diversity initiatives and director of the University's successful Student Cultural Diversity Center. "We now need to all have the same conversation. We need to have one big conversation."

To set the context for that conversation, the Diversity Summit featured keynote speaker William Tierney, director of the Pullias Center for Higher Education and university professor at the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California.

Tierney wove data and information with stories from his own experience in helping underrepresented and low-income youth navigate the path from middle school and continuing through successful completion of a college degree. He cited studies that project as many as eight in 10 jobs will require a college degree in the next decade. This amplifies the need to help more underrepresented, first-generation and low-income students get to and through college.

His presentation highlighted several practices that have been shown to contribute to increased diversity and student success in educational settings. Tierney recommended the What Works Clearinghouse, an online resource for evidence- and research-based educational practices.

Among the practices emphasized by Tierney to create a college-going culture were:

  • Offer courses in high school that prepare students for college-level curriculum, and develop a "four-year course trajectory" with each student in the 9th grade.
  • Surround students with adults and peers who encourage college-going aspirations. "The vast majority of students will rise to the expectations we set for them, but we must set those expectations," he said.
  • Improve the financial literacy of students and their families, and provide support to help them understand the steps to take on the path toward college admission.

Tierney encouraged teachers across the span of secondary and post-secondary education to "help (students) be more engaged in loving and learning education."

Following Tierney's presentation, the Diversity Summit turned toward action planning at the institutional or organizational level. Stewart described the exercise as "making the organizations more deliberate."

At the University of Nevada, Reno this fall, underrepresented students comprise 29 percent of the overall enrollment - an all-time high. The most recent data shows the percentage of full-time faculty who represent racial and ethnic minorities lags behind at 17.8 percent.

"We know where we are strong and where we are weak," Stewart said of the data. "The question to ask is where do we need to go? Where do we need to be 10 years from now?"

As for next steps, Crear said, "I want to, one, start planning for next year's summit and, two, gather the information obtained to start implementing more strategies to create a culture of openness, fairness and equitability.

"Now it's on us to better engage the community," said Crear. "And, these efforts are a two-way street. As we better engage the community, the community needs to engage us."

Diversity Summit attendee Lori Pasqua, a pre-college advisor for the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California, is ready for that engagement.

"I have a strategy now," Pasqua said. "Thank you for giving me a path."


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