February 2013 was truly a month to remember in Diversity Leadership at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. As Vice Provost and Chief Diversity Officer, I am proud to note the strides taken by our faculty and staff, students and campus/community partners to engage themselves in broad national issues, celebrate the stellar achievements of our faculty and staff, and support new initiatives to make our students successful when they matriculate into the real world.
In mid-February we continued our discussion from the October 2012 Diversity Forum with the inaugural Winter Inclusive Excellence Symposium keynote speaker and Inclusive Excellence expert Nancy “Rusty” Barcelo, president of Northern New Mexico College. Dr. Barcelo led participants through a rarely seen side of Inclusive Excellence — that of a Latina academician experiencing not only the unfolding of American history, but her own evolution as a scholar and change leader. The day-long symposium was rounded out by an excellent legal primer and update on the Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin case by Attorney Kate Lipper, EducationCounsel LLC Policy and Legal Advisor.
The symposium encompassed both the overview and on-the-ground dedication by recognizing Douglass Henderson, Professor of Engineering Physics, UW-Madison College of Engineering. Henderson was the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents Individual Awardee of the 5th Annual Regents’ Diversity Awards. The awards program was established by the Board to recognize and support individuals and programs in the UW System that foster access and success in university life for historically underrepresented populations.
A member of the UW-Madison faculty for more than two decades, Dr. Henderson worked with the UW Graduate School to develop the Graduate Engineering Research Scholars (GERS) program, a unique fellowship program designed to offer students a support network of peers as part of a community of UW-Madison engineering graduate students, faculty, and staff. The larger goal of the program is to increase the number of underrepresented minority graduate students in Engineering receiving doctoral degrees, and to increase the likelihood that they will eventually pursue a career as a faculty member. When it started in 1998, the GERS program served just three underrepresented minority Ph.D. students in the College of Engineering. Currently, there are 51. Over the past decade, 46 Ph.D. students have graduated from the program – up from just 17 graduates in the previous nine years. In 2009, Dr. Henderson was one of 15 honorees nationwide to receive a Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring from the National Science Foundation, in recognition of exceptional mentoring efforts.
The following week on Feb. 21, we had the special honor of hosting African-American Billionaire entrepreneur Michael V. Roberts, JD. Along with his brother, Steve, Roberts owns 12 hotels, more than a dozen TV stations and several shopping centers around the country under the Roberts Companies, a diversified firm that has rocketed them to a berth among the nation’s most successful businessmen. Roberts Brothers Properties L.L.C., a real estate and media subsidiary of Roberts Companies, ranks 41st on the Black Enterprise Magazine list of the 100 largest black-owned industrial service firms. Roberts flew directly to Madison from a trip to Africa to share his story with UW-Madison students and encourage them to think entrepreneurially in these challenging economic times.
Roberts explained how he was raised in a middle-class family and worked hard to get where he is in life.“We weren’t rich. We weren’t poor, but we just never had any money,” Roberts said. With most of his businesses based where he grew up in North St. Louis, Missouri, Roberts has been a major player in spurring economic growth in the African American community there over the last 35 years. He estimates his family-owned company is worth $1 billion. He’s making history … with his family-owned corporation, which owns 76 companies and boasts a staff of 1,100 employees. Roberts and his brother’s corporate achievements were featured on CNN’s “Black In America” special in 2009. In the special, Michael mentions that one of the St. Louis hotels they now own used to ban black people as guests.
Every student participating received a copy of Roberts’ book, Action Has No Season, about his journey and what made him successful. “What may appear to you today as ego, 40 years from now will be legacy, and black folks need legacy. We have to have examples of successes in order for us to be able to let the generations to come know that many of the successes that occurred by African Americans in this country can be seen and pointed out and can be emulated,” Roberts said during CNN’s “Black in America” special covering him and his brother.
Students immediately went to work on building their own success by hearing from a panel of representatives from INROADS, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, the Congressional Black Caucus, Code: 2040, Management Leadership for Tomorrow and the Children’s Defense Fund featured at the Internships in the New Economy Leadership Symposium. In an effort to build on our national and global partnerships, along with implementing a new Diversity Leadership Initiative (DLI), the internship symposium provided students with the tools and skills necessary to seek out, apply for and secure internships in various fields while networking with leaders from national-known organizations that specialize in preparing young talent for workplace success.
A special thank you to our national agency panel participants: Amy Schapiro of CODE 2040, Amal Muna of Teach for America-Milwaukee, Keith Wright of the Congressional Black Caucus, Valora Blackson of Management Leadership to Tomorrow, Eileen Williamson of INROADS, and Joseph Worthy of the National Children’s Defense Fund.