Georgia College Front Page

Diversity: College of Arts and Sciences makes a difference with difference

This is part of an ongoing series on diversity.

As the largest division on campus, the College of Arts and Sciences (A&S) makes diversity a priority. And the results are remarkable.

By 2017—four years after President Dr. Steve Dorman unveiled his Diversity Action Plan—new A&S faculty hires from underrepresented populations were up 40 percent.

“Looking at our faculty demographics historically, the majority were white male or white female. But we’ve seen underrepresented faculty increase in numbers slowly, particularly at the assistant professor level,” said Dr. Chavonda Mills, interim associate dean at A&S and professor of chemistry.

Dr. Eric Tenbus became the new dean of A&S last summer, after 17 years in the Midwest. He was impressed to see a diversity action plan in place, along with an Office of Inclusive Excellence. Tenbus plans to continue the trend by devoting more effort toward retention and climate, making sure underrepresented faculty and students feel welcome and appreciated on campus. Professional development and diversity training are also in his strategic plans.

“We see diversity as built-in. It’s what we’re supposed to be doing,” Tenbus said. “Comparing and contrasting your own culture with others is at the crux of critical thinking. This should be a major thrust of education, especially for the liberal arts.”

The A&S department of chemistry, physics and astronomy is one of the most diverse on campus—with 42 percent of faculty born outside the United States and 37 percent women scientists.

When breaking down separate disciplines, the numbers go even higher. Chemistry weighs in with a whopping 82 percent of faculty being women scientists or from other countries and underrepresented groups. Physics is close behind at 75 percent.

This multiplicity of genders, races and nationalities is imperative in the modern classroom. It not only helps attract more underrepresented groups to campus—having diverse faculty also makes minority students feel more comfortable and included. It’s difficult being the only one in a classroom who looks or lives a certain way. It can stifle voices and make students withdrawn or disengaged, Mills said.

“For me—a woman of color with a Ph.D. in chemistry—that’s very rare,” she said. “Having someone who looks like them has a definite impact on student success. Here’s another female scientist. Here’s someone who had similar aspirations, and they’re successful and now leading this class.”

“That can motivate students,” Mills said, “and give them that extra push to say, ‘I can do this too.’”


Dr. Chavonda Mills and Dr. Eric Tenbus.

 

Every Georgia College student goes through A&S when taking core classes. So, it’s important everyone feels valued and respected. If A&S didn’t have an assortment of faculty and students—as well as different curriculum, ideas and teaching styles—some graduates could leave campus without ever experiencing diversity, Mills said.

“We’re the largest college, and we take ownership of diversity. We realize the potential impact we can have on the university,” she said. “I think it’s our responsibility to provide diverse experiences to all students at Georgia College, regardless of their major.”

“And we’re doing it,” Mills said. “We can always do better. There’s always room for improvement. But we’re definitely doing it.”

Mills oversees diversity initiatives for the college and chairs its Diversity Leadership Team. In addition to hiring more underrepresented faculty, administrators secured funds for minority scholarships. The college created the A&S Dean’s Excellence Scholarship for incoming first-year students with exceptional admissions portfolios, who come from underrepresented communities and have financial need. Six scholarships were offered in 2016. All six students remained at Georgia College and are academically successful, Mills said. Two more scholarships were added last year.

A&S also sends faculty like Dr. Peter Rosado, assistant professor of chemistry, on recruiting trips. He speaks Spanish and helps parents navigate the complexities of college applications in their own language—something Mills calls “invaluable” for recruiting minority students.

The college provides professional development for faculty on diversity and keeping the workplace friendly and hospitable. This year, efforts are focused on retention of underrepresented groups and identifying barriers that keep minority faculty and students from staying. Next comes strategies to alleviate or eliminate those barriers.

Another retention tool is making sure faculty receive credit for engaging in diversity-related research and service, such as sitting on committees or mentoring minority students.

“All this is important from a self-reflective view. It’s intentional,” Tenbus said. “It shows we’re trying to emulate society in general. Society is becoming more diverse, and we need to reflect that at Georgia College. Students need instructors who will bring something different to the classroom.”

“And if we can help lead the campus along this path,” he said, “we’re happy to do that."

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