New Equity and Diversity VP talks goals, transition

Katrice Albert arrived from Louisiana State University in June.

Newly announced Vice President of Diversity and Equity Katrice Albert in her office on Tuesday, July 2, 2013. With her new position, Albert said she is interested in focusing on student development, closing the achievement gap and maintaining the University's commitment to excellence.

Jaak Jensen

Newly announced Vice President of Diversity and Equity Katrice Albert in her office on Tuesday, July 2, 2013. With her new position, Albert said she is interested in focusing on student development, closing the achievement gap and maintaining the University’s commitment to excellence.

Branden Largent

For her new position at the University of Minnesota, Katrice Albert brought from Louisiana her warmest clothing, her favorite artwork and her infectious laugh.

“When I first heard about the position, I said to myself, ‘Minnesota?’”Albert said with a big laugh that echoed through her office. “‘Not a southern girl in Minnesota.’”

But after talking with her colleagues and mentors at Louisiana State University, where she served as vice provost for Equity, Diversity and Community Outreach, Albert heard nothing but encouragement to head up north.

In June, Albert started her new job as the University’s vice president for equity and diversity, a role that had been vacant for more than two years as the University struggled to fill it.

Albert has a big task ahead of her, but friends and colleagues from Louisiana say she’s the right person for the job.

“I’m sorry that we lost her,” said Pamela Monroe, a professor at LSU’s School of Social Work, “but she definitely made a good move.”

‘A global vision’

In her short time at the University, Albert has been busy meeting with community members and other University administrators to talk about their diversity successes and concerns.

Albert said her top priorities for the University include increasing the number of underrepresented students in undergraduate and graduate populations and recruiting and retaining diverse faculty — a goal that includes hiring more women in science, technology, engineering and math fields.

“I’m really working with the team to hear about their visioning for each of the areas that report to [the Office of Equity and Diversity],” Albert said, “and then offering a global vision for the office.”

A career in diversity

Throughout her life, Albert has been a career counselor, a professor, a program coordinator and a community volunteer, among other things.

In 2005, when Albert was in her early 30s, she became the youngest vice provost in LSU history. For some, this raised concerns.

But many of her colleagues said she quickly dispelled any worries.

In her position, Albert continually championed new initiatives to improve diversity throughout the LSU system, said Carolyn Hargrave, LSU’s vice president for academic affairs and technology transfer.

During her final months at LSU, Albert was instrumental in opening a new home for the university’s Women’s Center and its African American Cultural Center, Hargrave said.

“Her leadership was key in making that happen,” she said. “If you want a job done … she will not give up.”

Finding Katrice Albert

The hiring process for the new vice president for equity and diversity — a position responsible for diversity initiatives on the five University campuses across the state — was a long one.

During the more than two years the position was vacant, a University search committee went through two batches of finalists before deciding on Albert in December.

After the first three candidates made public presentations in May 2012, University President Eric Kaler  decided to start the search process again because none of the finalists “emerged as exceptional,” said College of Education and Human Development Dean Jean Quam, who co-chaired the search committee.

“He didn’t want to settle for someone who could do the job,” Quam said. “He wanted someone who could stand out in the position.”

After meeting with Albert in person and watching her give a community presentation via Skype, Quam said most of the committee members were very impressed with her.

Albert’s ability to define diversity beyond just race and ethnicity, as well as her strong community engagement in Louisiana, factored strongly into the decision, Quam said.

“We hope she’s here for a very long time,” she said. “I think we found the right person to do this job.”

A passion for art

Although she never learned to play an instrument or draw, Albert said she’s long had a passion for the arts.

“I think art transforms lives,” she said.

She is decorating her new corner office in Morrill Hall with original artwork from Louisiana, including her favorite piece: a painting of two people, one white and one of color, holding hands.

Albert served on the boards of multiple arts organizations in Baton Rouge to help bring people of color, people without adequate resources and children into the audience.

“Her vision for being able to see the intertwining of arts and the way it can celebrate diversity … brought people together through that purpose,” said Renee Chatelain, executive director of the Manship Theatre at the Shaw Center for the Arts in Baton Rouge.

When they met for the first time, Albert told Chatelain she knew they would be great friends.

“And she was absolutely right,” Chatelain said.

Albert said she’d like to continue this work in the Minneapolis arts community once she gets comfortable in her new position.

‘A force of nature’

Many of Albert’s colleagues noted her distinctive laugh and vibrant personality.

“I’m not the only person who will describe her as an absolute force of nature,” Monroe said.

Jane Shank, CEO of Volunteers of America Greater Baton Rouge and longtime travel companion of Albert’s, agreed Albert’s laugh is one of her defining features.

Shank said everyone at Volunteers of America —which Albert is involved with — always knew when Albert was in the building because of her laugh and jovial demeanor.

“She’s a beautiful human being,” Shank said. “Your gain is our loss, but everybody’s probably already said that.”