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UW Initiative Strengthens Campus Diversity
August 5, 2010 — When Winston-Salem State University (WSSU) student Yolanda Paylor arrived at the University of Wyoming to begin a six-week research fellowship program, she wondered how she would survive with no car and no means of transportation.
It didn't take long, however, for her to fall in love with Wyoming.
"I love the people I worked with and the great adventures we participated in, such as Jubilee Days, Frontier Days and horseback riding," she says. "I'll always remember the fun I had and all that I learned within and outside of the institution."
The WSSU research fellowship, sponsored by the NASA Space Grant Consortium and the Science Posse (a group of UW graduate students whose primary goal is to raise awareness and understanding of science), was one of the first activities under UW's new Strategic Diversity Initiative (SDI). Five WSSU students worked in laboratories with graduate student mentors, where they gained hands-on research experience and UW credit for independent study research.
"I felt like I was home," says another WSSU student, Natalie Faust. "I loved UW and I will remember the University of Wyoming for the rest of my life."
UW's Strategic Diversity Initiatives Committee (SDIC) is working to achieve the University Plan's diversity objective to "secure a climate of acceptance and mutual respect for different opinions, cultures, experiences and personalities." Among the University Plan 3's action items is to establish partnerships and academic ties with historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
Nell Russell, associate vice president for diversity and SDIC chair, says UW has signed a memorandum of agreement with HBCUs Howard (Washington D.C.), Jackson (Miss.) State, North Carolina A+T (Greensboro) and Hampton (Va.) universities, and with the National Center for Atmospheric Research, as well as with WSSU. The MOAs define a framework that creates opportunities for mutually beneficial research and education. This includes establishing student and faculty exchange and internship opportunities, collaborative research, outreach and teacher training and other activities.
Some of the initiatives outlined in the MOA are under way. For example, Howard University Dean of Social Work Cudore Snell last spring visited with students and faculty in UW's Division of Social Work. Mona Schatz, UW social work professor, says plans are being made for two faculty and several students from Howard to come to UW in the fall to and meet with students, and faculty. In the spring semester, UW student leaders and faculty will visit the Howard campus in Washington, D.C.
UW's MOA with WSSU has resulted not only in the NASA student fellowship experience, but in a pilot exchange program hosted by the Science and Mathematics Teaching Center in UW's College of Education. James Etim, WSSU education professor, brought three middle school science and mathematics teachers to UW to explore intellectual and cultural trade between the universities in the area of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education.
In addition to participating in a professional development workshop, meeting Wyoming teachers and visiting the Wind River Indian Reservation, the WSSU visitors enjoyed the great Wyoming outdoors -- hiking along the Popo Agie River in Sinks Canyon State Park, viewing buffalo and deer in Hot Springs State Park, visiting the Legend Rock petroglyph site and strolling through Cheyenne's Botanic Gardens.
"Bringing classroom teachers who are working on their masters degrees gave us an opportunity to discuss issues that teachers face in both our states, how our programs are similar and different and how we might work together at both the undergraduate and graduate levels in the future," says Sylvia Parker, SMTC coordinator.
Etim says the exchange was successful as both an enriching learning opportunity for the visiting students as well as moving toward achieving the SDI diversity goals.
"Diversity involves a lot of things, and any way that we can increase opportunities for different groups to interact and share ideas, the more we can foster mutual respect for our differences," Etim says.
"For UW, Nell Russell has been both the visionary and the prime mover behind this relationship, which opens truly important doorways for our university," UW Provost Myron Allen says.
The partnership offers WSSU faculty and students many opportunities to experience academic life at an intensive research institution, says Brenda Allen, WSSU provost.
"We are benefitting greatly from these opportunities and hope that in return we are adding to the richness in perspectives, opinions and ideas guiding the research," she says. "We hope to also offer students and faculty from UW opportunities to bring their perspectives and ideas to our campus. We look forward to cultivating this relationship toward sharing with each other the best of each institution."
Russell likes the progress that is being made toward accomplishing UW's diversity goals.
"We have made the first step, and have covered an incredible amount of ground in this first year," she says. "This effort can only grow and get better."
Winston-Salem State University student Yolanda Paylor conducts protein assays of prairie dog kidney tissues in a University of Wyoming laboratory. Five WSSU students received research fellowships to work with graduate students in UW laboratories. (UW Photo)