Diversity initiative creates partnerships with HBCUs' faculty, students

Shawn Donkin and Pamala Morris were visiting historically black colleges and universities on behalf of Purdue, seeing 300-500 students at a time. They were encouraging the students to consider Purdue for graduate school, but frankly, it's not an easy sell when many of the students have never seen the Midwest, let alone the Purdue campus.

That's when this duo in the College of Agriculture — Donkin now interim associate dean for research and Morris the assistant dean and director of the Office of Multicultural Programs — heard opportunity knock. Purdue's Office of the Provost was offering Diversity Transformation Awards for innovative projects in support of diversity and inclusion. They applied with an idea that hadn't been tried before in quite the same way here: Bring faculty to Purdue from HBCUs for two days, let them get to know the college and the campus, and connect them with the faculty here who have the same interests. The faculty-to-faculty partnerships that would develop would lead to shared research and projects that would include HBCU students, who in turn would spend time on campus.

"The goal is for the HBCU faculty to see Purdue as a potential research partner and a place for their grad students to work on the grants on which we partner," Donkin said. Purdue faculty members become "diversity ambassadors."

The HBCU faculty began to visit in 2017. The last of the groups will arrive April 21. The visiting faculty came eight to 12 at a time and represented Tuskegee University in spring 2017 and Florida A&M University last fall. The faculty from North Carolina A&T State University will visit this month.

The visits not only showcase Purdue faculty and facilities, they also show Purdue's commitment to inclusion.

"As part of the visit, we take them to our cultural centers," Donkin said. "Of course, they enjoy the Black Cultural Center, but also our LGBTQ Center."

Part of the DTA grant, $56,000, was set aside for collaborative projects between Purdue and the visiting faculty.

"We sent out a request for proposals to our faculty," Donkin said. "It's not a lot of money but it provided a good incentive. Eight grants were awarded at $7,000 each. They range from hosting an HBCU student here to having an HBCU host one of our students, to developing a course together, to working together on a grant proposal to go to the USDA."

The North Carolina A&T faculty visit this spring will be the last one on this DTA grant, but now Purdue's Department of Agricultural Sciences Education and Communication is planning a mini-visit on its own with Langston University in Oklahoma.

"We surveyed our faculty who participated and those who visited, both before and after the visits," Donkin said. "We wanted to evaluate the likelihood that this experience made them more likely to work together. In all cases, we found a higher likelihood because of this exchange."

One of the guests noted, "The program goes even beyond my expectations in terms of the global quality of education and research at Purdue University. It is an example that has to be followed in terms of linking educational, training and research for the target of producing high-quality graduates."

This exchange with faculty at HBCUs is one of 12 projects funded by the Diversity Transformation Awards. More information on the program is available at http://www.purdue.edu/diversity-inclusion/dta_projects/index.html.

April 2018

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