Humphrey School program aims to raise cultural awareness in the workplace

The program had its first round last year, and is preparing for a second in the fall.

Chief Executive Officer Atum Azzahir poses for a portrait inside the Cultural Wellness Center in South Minneapolis on Friday, June 1. The Humphrey School and the Culture Wellness Center formed a partnership through Change Network Minnesota, which aims to make people more culturally aware.

Easton Green

Chief Executive Officer Atum Azzahir poses for a portrait inside the Cultural Wellness Center in South Minneapolis on Friday, June 1. The Humphrey School and the Culture Wellness Center formed a partnership through Change Network Minnesota, which aims to make people more culturally aware.

Katrina Pross

A program created by the University of Minnesota and partners is working to help leaders develop cultural awareness within their industries.

The Change Network Minnesota leadership program was designed by the Public and Nonprofit Leadership Center at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and the Cultural Wellness Center in Minneapolis to help program participants embrace their own cultures and develop culturally-aware environments.

“The purpose of Change Network is to build a more equitable and inclusive Minnesota. A lot of our leaders who are in the program are people who have been really trying to make change at various levels in organizations by looking at equity and inclusiveness at its core,” said Stephanie Jacobs, director of PNLC.

The year-long program began with 17 participants last fall and is now considering applicants for its second round. The program recruits community members and University graduate students to help them create equal employment opportunities within their institutions and build a network of culturally-aware leaders, said Cultural Wellness Center founder Atum Azzahir.

Participants engage in cultural self-study, where they complete exercises and readings to reflect on and embrace their own cultures. They also hold discussions with other members about applying cultural awareness skills to the workplace.

“Leaders don’t often have the time and space to reflect on their personal leadership with a cohort of other people who are also trying to do the same thing,” Jacobs said. 

Participants work with members of their cultural communities and people in their career fields to create final projects sharing what they learned.

Each participant receives a $5,000 grant from the Bush Foundation to fund their participation and projects within the program. 

“This is right in our wheelhouse of system change work that we do here at the Public and Nonprofit Leadership Center,” Jacobs said. 

Azzahir said the partnership allows participants to approach the program from an analytical and policy viewpoint as well as a cultural, community-based perspective.

The program is the first partnership between the two institutions. 

Veronica Quillien, a University Ph.D. student studying curriculum and instruction and member of the Bàsàa people of Cameroon, participated in the first round of the program. She also identifies by her Bàsàa name, Sandjock Likinè.

Quillien is founder and CEO of Language Attitude, a non-profit organization which uses art and language to serve communities in Minnesota and Cameroon. 

Quillien said the program is important because she wants to make sure there is respectful representation of non-white people in academia and everyday life. 

During her work with the Change Network, Quillien published a comic book about her native Bàsàa language.

“My favorite part [of the program] was recognizing and getting the affirmation that what you are thinking is valid, and the way you speak is valid. You don’t have to change anything because if you change who you are, then you lose this self-grounding that you have and that you were born with,” Quillien said. 

The program’s second round is expected to begin in fall 2018.