As the University of Nebraska–Lincoln prepares for the State of Diversity forum on Oct. 28, Nebraska Today is sitting down with college leaders to explore how inclusive excellence is being folded into day-to-day campus activities.
Since 2019, the university’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion has worked directly with institutional leaders in multiple ways, including through the Council of Inclusive Excellence and Diversity. Intended to connect colleges, primary campus units and ODI, the council is led by Nkenge Friday, assistant vice chancellor for strategic initiatives, with representation from across the institution.
The work of the council has been pivotal in guiding diversity, equity and inclusion plans university-wide. And, momentum realized through the council is being featured in this Q&A series.
Today, we’re continuing the series by chatting with Yusong Li, associate dean for faculty and inclusion and a professor within the College of Engineering.
This question and answer series exploring campus diversity, equity and inclusion planning will continue beyond the State of Diversity forum and into November. If your college, department or unit has a plan to feature, contact Troy Fedderson at email@example.com or 402-472-8515.
What is the state of diversity, equity and inclusion planning in the College of Engineering?
We started working on our diversity, equity and inclusion plan in 2019 as part of a college-wide goal to earn recognition through the American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE)’s Diversity Recognition Program. It is a national program intended to help engineering colleges accelerate achievement in diversity areas. The College of Engineering is among the inaugural group of institutions to receive the ASEE Diversity Recognition Program’s Bronze Award in 2019. In fall 2021, we started to merge our diversity and inclusion plan into our college’s strategic plan. If we are truly going to make positive progress, we feel those two documents must align.
Are elements of the plan already being implemented?
Yes. One of the first things we did was to establish a college diversity, equity, and inclusion (CDEI) council with representation across all departments within the college, including students, faculty and staff. This body serves two roles — as a channel of communication across the college, and as a way to gauge climate and provide guidance when needed.
The CDEI council is about to release a climate survey specifically designed for the College of Engineering. The idea there is to help us better identify our strengths and weaknesses, which will help shape our diversity and inclusion programming as we move forward.
In addition, we celebrate the various heritage months. Those activities include bringing in specific speakers from underrepresented groups and spotlighting our students, faculty and staff from underrepresented groups on our webpages.
We deployed a series of K-12 pipeline programs to increase diversity in the undergraduate student body. As part of the efforts to recruit diverse graduate students, the College of Engineering has developed strong partnerships with non-PhD granting engineering schools, such as University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley.
How are individuals in the college helping advance inclusive excellence?
We continue to discuss the importance of diversity and inclusion to all members of our college community. If we’re going to achieve inclusive excellence across the college, it can’t just be one or two of us. While faculty, staff and student representatives of the CDEI council are serving as the leaders, it needs to be all of us working together. To help reinforce that idea, we are developing college-level awards for diversity and inclusion.
And, we support our faculty and staff to participate in conferences that feature a diversity, equity and inclusion focus whenever possible. We also promote leadership development opportunities for faculty and staff from underrepresented groups. That will allow them to learn more and, possibly, bring ideas back that can benefit the entire college.
Is there a part of the plan that is most exciting to you and/or is having a positive impact on the college?
The College of Engineering is committed to increasing diversity and inclusion among our faculty, staff and student body. I’m excited because we are in the process of hiring 20 new faculty this year, and our college is actively working to increase diversity in the pool for each of those searches. As a part of that, we are requiring each search committee to reach out to at least five individuals with diverse backgrounds, letting them know about the position and actively encouraging them to apply. We train all search committees and department chairs to integrate diversity, equity and inclusion in each step of faculty hiring process, i.e. developing hiring plans, building diverse pools and landing the candidates.