CFANS works for diversity through new staff members

Two positions were filled last semester in CFANS to focus courses and faculty on becoming more inclusive.

Lew Blank

The College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences at the University of Minnesota, historically a majority-white college, hired two staff members last semester who are out to change how minorities are represented in the school.

Sandra Mitchell and Joseph Ballard II were hired last October to fill positions focused on diversity within CFANS.

Mitchell, CFANS’ intercultural education program specialist, filled an open position focused on helping faculty and staff understand and accommodate students of all cultures.

Ballard serves as the department’s coordinator for diversity retention and recruitment, a new position that involves working directly with disadvantaged students.

“We all recognize, in Minnesota, the data that we see on achievement gaps by school districts,” said CFANS Dean Brian Buhr. “One of the things we’ve been trying to do, as many places are, is try to improve access for underrepresented, under-resourced populations.”

For faculty, Mitchell conducts training sessions for professors on implicit bias, explores ways to diversify lab teams, implements curriculum that works for all students and brings in speakers that reflect the diversity of the student body.

Mitchell also contributes to the Teaching Across Difference program, which works to incorporate cultural perspectives into courses and their content, said Karl Lorenz, the director of diversity programs for CFANS. 

Another of Mitchell’s responsibilities is working directly with department chairs to ensure diversity and inclusion are addressed in annual departmental reviews, she said.

“So far, I’ve met with 22 department chairs to talk about their diversity goals,” Mitchell said.

In tandem with Mitchell’s work with faculty, Ballard has addressed diversity and inclusion issues for CFANS students. 

One of Ballard’s main projects is establishing a social space where students from diverse backgrounds can connect with one another in a setting focused on minorities, Lorenz said. 

Ballard also developed a mentor program that lets undergraduate students of color connect with a graduate student adviser.

Additionally, Buhr said, over the past two years, CFANS has invested heavily in finding an advising model for students that gives them a primary adviser and a secondary adviser specialized in the student’s program.

“We come from backgrounds that are unique to us, that make sense to us and that should be valued,” said Lorenz. “So, in order to do that, you really need a robust diversity initiative to provide people with the opportunity to learn from those various perspectives.”