Dr. Jamila Simpson is much more than a friendly face for students, although she certainly is that too. The Digest recently found out how this busy NC State diversity practitioner makes a major contribution in her post as assistant dean in the College of Sciences.
I work in the College of Sciences Dean’s Office. I am the assistant dean for diversity and student services in the college. I have a bachelor’s degree in meteorology and a master’s and Ph.D. in science education from NC State. I have served in this role for seven years.
What have been some of your major initiatives relating to diversity and equity?
The College of Sciences includes students, faculty and staff in the academic departments of Biological Sciences, Chemistry, Marine, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Mathematics, Physics and Statistics.
The Office of Diversity and Student Services enhances the student experience for all College of Sciences majors and promotes the recruitment, retention and graduation of African Americans, Native Americans, Hispanic/Latinos and other minority students who are traditionally underrepresented in the sciences. The office also serves as a resource for the college on issues of diversity.
The Office of Diversity and Student Services sponsors various programs to recruit prospective students and support current students, such as:
- Sciences Diversity Back to School Cookout
- Freshman Advancement Seminar Course (USC 110)
- Peer Mentoring
- Prospective Freshman Multicultural Visitation Day
- The Society of Multicultural Scientists (SMS)
- Sciences Senior Diversity Banquet
- Research Opportunities Booklet
- Sciences Council
- Sciences Student Ambassador Program
- Alumni Day
- Sciences/CNR Wolfpack Weekend
- Sciences Diversity Workshop
- Diversity presentation in the COS 100 course
Here is an explanation of some of the activities above:
- I run a program with Dr. Shaefny Grays from the College of Natural Resources (CNR) entitled Wolfpack Weekend. It is a three-day visitation program in the summer for high-achieving rising high school seniors from underrepresented populations. The purpose of this program is to increase the recruitment of students from populations underrepresented in disciplines found in the College of Sciences and CNR. We bring them to NC State’s campus to experience college life, visit classes, meet current students and alumni, faculty and staff and participate in cultural/social activities. We also present admissions information to prospective students and their parents. This has been a very successful program, with most of our participants applying and being accepted (~90%) into the university.
- “Alumni Day” invites diverse alumni to campus during homecoming weekend. These alumni have dinner with current students and share how they were successful at NC State and what they are doing now with their degrees. It is a way for students to see role models who have been successful with their majors.
- My office collaborates with others within the College of Sciences to organize annual workshops on issues of diversity. Topics are garnered from needs in the college and have ranged from Project SAFE training to examining best practices for mentoring women and diverse graduate students in our programs.
- Every Spring my office hosts a Senior Diversity Banquet to honor students from underrepresented populations who are graduating from our college. We invite their families, alumni, faculty/staff as well as other undergraduate students. We hope to highlight their achievements as well as inspire their peers to complete their degrees in the sciences.
How do you see the concepts and practices of creating and supporting diversity and equity in the university environment changing in the near future, both nationally and at NC State?
My job has changed significantly from when I first began seven years ago. Issues of diversity, identity and intersectionality are broadening rapidly and institutions have to keep up. I am beginning to see a change in the understanding that diversity issues are complex and encompass more than traditionally imagined. There is a balance needed between understanding the broadness of diversity and also understanding the importance of the equity component of diversity. In order to create a more equitable, welcoming and thoughtful environment, diversity cannot be thought of as something for “some people;” it has to be something important for everyone. Part of that examination is understanding its complexity and examining our identities and institutional structures that benefit or impede us. When we are privileged by institutional structures, we tend not to view them as problematic. However, there are various groups who are not privileged in various ways, and they feel unmasking these privileges and experiences are critical to real institutional change.
How would you like to see NC State continue on the path of welcoming a diverse community?
I have always viewed NC State as a leader in the area of diversity. Colleagues around the country are pleasantly surprised when they learn how our university has institutionalized its diversity efforts on multiple levels (at the university and college levels). I also love that part of our work at a university is broadening the thinking and experiences of everyone but especially students. The world we interact with is more diverse, so I am excited that we are preparing students to be more inclusive and thoughtful of diversity in the world. However, with pride in our efforts, we should not stop innovating. I want NC State to continue to be at the forefront of diversity efforts while also being respectful of our institutional history. People at all levels should continue to ask, “What are best practices? What cutting edge initiatives can we try? Are there questions about diversity that we should be thinking about but aren’t?” We should continue to look at data to highlight what is happening on our campus and then take strategic action for change.