by Deane Morrison
Meet Joseph Ballard II and Sandra Mitchell, two new arrivals in the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences’ Diversity and Inclusion Office who are busy enhancing the personal and academic climate for CFANS students, staff, and faculty.
An Okie who’s A-OK
Oklahoma native Ballard comes to the U by way of Purdue, Oklahoma State, and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, where he gained a wealth of experience working with students of color, at-risk students, and first-generation college students.
Do you note a pattern here?
“I love the students,” Ballard says. “I love being in a position to create spaces for them. … Now, about 18 percent of CFANS students are from underrepresented groups. I hope in the next five to seven years that will rise to 22 and then to 25 percent.”
As the first coordinator for diversity retention and recruitment, he oversees CFANS' efforts toward building and retaining the cohort of undergrad and grad students of color and from other marginalized communities. He collaborates with the U’s Office of Equity and Diversity and in retention efforts by, for example, the Women’s Center, the Gender and Sexuality Center for Queer and Trans Life, and, especially, the Multicultural Center for Academic Excellence, plus the Multicultural Student Engagement office and other units within both Student Affairs and Academic Affairs.
He is also involved in community engagement and outreach for the college and is the primary adviser for the U’s student chapter of Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS).
He and others in his office will collaborate with the CFANS admissions office to send undergrad and grad student ambassadors to high schools to encourage the younger students to consider—and apply to—the college. They will also work with Twin Cities nonprofit college-preparatory programs such as AchieveMinneapolis and College Possible.
Students seek Ballard out for academic and life coaching, knowing he will help them get the academic resources they need and become socially acclimated to the campus, and feel a part of the CFANS and University communities. They tell him how they appreciate having him to go to for support, advocacy, guidance, and mentorship and knowing that he cares about their success and wellbeing. He is particularly proud of helping a nervous student get a coveted internship at a large Minneapolis company.
“It takes a village of us to get them here and keep them here,” Ballard muses. “It’s gratifying that I’m doing what I came here to do and fulfilling my purpose in life and in our society.”
‘Show Me’ stater who does exactly that
A native of Missouri, Mitchell just arrived on campus in mid-October. She has some 20 years experience in higher education diversity work, most recently at the University of North Dakota and Regis University in Denver. She also has a 21-year-old son to keep her on top of issues of importance to students.
In her role as the intercultural education program specialist, she serves as the co-adviser for MANRRS .
“I love working with students,” she says. “They remind us every day why we do the work that we do.
“It isn’t for the accolades or glory. It’s to provide the best education possible for all of our students, especially those who have traditionally been underrepresented in higher education.”
Mitchell oversees diversity training for faculty and staff, such as the Inclusive CFANS series, which highlights the ways a community that embraces all can reap both social and professional benefits.
One series of events under the Inclusive CFANS portfolio is Dialogue with the Deans, a series of discussions with the dean and associate deans of CFANS, held two or three times a semester.
“The purpose of the dialogue is not necessarily to make a decision or reach consensus,” Mitchell explains. “Rather, it is to encourage everyone to learn about diversity in CFANS and at the University of Minnesota, explore new issues, and build a deeper awareness of the topics in a safe environment.”
The next topic is “Respecting Religious Diversity in CFANS and at the University,” on the calendar for December 6.
Mitchell will also work on initiatives with Karl Lorenz, CFANS’ director of diversity programs. One is Working Across Difference, which helps students become comfortable in, and competent at, navigating the complex intercultural landscape of modern life and employment. It also aids CFANS instructors with pedagogical methods to achieve this goal by, for instance, integrating intercultural content and diverse perspectives into course curricula.
Mitchell also works with department leaders in CFANS to learn about initiatives currently under way and the goals for diversity and inclusion over the next two years. By then it is expected, she says, that all department chairs will have created and articulated a few specific goals around diversity and inclusion in such areas as faculty development, faculty and hiring practices, teaching, and outreach. Also, says Mitchell, work on these goals has created new opportunities for training and development at all levels in CFANS, with some beginning as early as January 2018.