Director of Minority Engineering Programs in the College of Engineering: Angelitha Daniel

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Spring sun cuts through Japanese Maple leaves near the Belltower on North Campus off Hillsborough Street.

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Angelitha Daniel is one of NC State’s college-level diversity directors. Each of the colleges has at least one director or assistant dean for diversity. Ms. Daniel has been working with the Minority Engineering Program (MEP) since June of 2003. Learn her views on the need for diversity and inclusion in the university setting.

Angelitha DanielHow do you define inclusiveness?

Inclusiveness, to me, is being open to and understanding of peoples’ backgrounds, sexual orientations, religions, etc. Not only being open to understanding their differences, but even if you don’t agree with them, being able to respect them.

How do you work to create a welcoming, inclusive and diverse environment within your college?

That’s what the MEP is here for. All of the programs that we run are aimed to do those exact things, from our Summer Transition Program (STP), to STudent Advancement and Retention Teams (START), to our Freshman Orientation courses, to being involved with our minority engineering student organizations. The whole aim is to make minority students comfortable in this environment. We do that well within these walls but once students navigate outside of the MEP space, they’re met with difficult interactions. A professor may speak in a tone where a student may feel like, “Okay, you’re talking to me as if I don’t belong here, and I do.” We work to make students strong and confident enough so that no matter what happens here at NC State, they can navigate it. And this “practice,” so to speak, helps them as they transition into the real world because these same challenges are going to be in the professional arena that they step into. I think being here allows you the opportunity to have those experiences and to begin to develop your set of tools to be able to handle it.

Describe how you interact, communicating effectively and respectfully, within the context of varying beliefs, behaviors and backgrounds.

I just try to be respectful. Being respectful of people and being open to asking questions and trying to improve your understanding, even if you know that you don’t necessarily agree, is a powerful thing. You can agree to disagree. Especially in a university setting, where people come from all walks of life. Everybody should have the freedom to walk and be comfortable in this environment, and being respectful at all levels goes a long way.

How do you encourage students, faculty and staff to embrace diversity?

That’s a difficult one. We encourage students with the programs that we run and we also encourage students within MEP to be comfortable yet assertive in getting the things that they need. Some people may never see the importance of being open-minded and welcoming of people who don’t have the same background, and for those people you just have to continue to do what you’re doing. I look to people who are allies, and in the College of Engineering I’m thankful that people like Dr. Jerome Lavelle are here, Dr. Dave Parrish, Dean Martin Vega; they all understand the importance. And the message doesn’t always have to come from MEP; when it comes from different voices who understand that things can be different for someone who’s from a minority background or female in a place like NC State, it helps greatly. Simply put, it is easier when you have allies who understand the importance of diversity. When it’s important from the top down, it makes a big difference. When we’re aware of certain things not being done appropriately or when something is said that dehumanizes someone, we are all able to address it together, but you’re always going to have bumps and bruises along the way.

Why is diversity important in the learning environment?

You get more accomplished when there are more diverse perspectives at the table. If you have the same people sitting at the table you’ll come up with the same solutions. When you have a diverse group of minds at the table, it gives you a better chance of coming up with a creative solution that takes everybody’s thoughts/perspectives (based on their experiences) and their creativity into account. Diversity of thought is a powerful thing. The way in which we see the world around us is shaped by our identity, culture and experiences. This is why diversity is so important in the learning environment. Greater diversity leads to great variation in perspectives and approaches.

What are the biggest diversity issues that students, faculty and staff face in your college? How do you see NC State working to fix these issues?

With everything that’s been going on as of late, it almost seems like we’ve taken steps forward just to take several steps back. I think the biggest issue for students, staff and faculty of color, or minority or underrepresented people, is just feeling like you belong. So even for myself, I can go into certain meetings and be the only one; looking around the table, everybody else is in the majority. I’ve experienced it as an undergrad, I’ve experienced it as a staff person here on campus and I know students experience it as well.

I think the challenge is that people don’t respect others’ backgrounds, or people who don’t look or speak like them, enough. Just looking at recent events and how the university has positioned itself, it’s very difficult to be in this space trying to do the things that we aim to do when it feels like people can just say whatever they want and there will be no consequence. I’m not saying that students should be kicked out of school, but there should be some kind of consequence for behavior that makes anyone feel like they don’t belong. Diversity training of some sort should be required for all students so that, no matter where you come from, you feel welcomed and a part of this community of scholars.

Students pay a lot of money to be here, and to not be able to walk this campus freely and feel comfortable and safe is difficult when you look at what we aim to do as a university. Our purpose is to try to ensure that students feel comfortable and welcomed while pursuing their degrees, and that is not always the case. With the political climate, I think people feel free to say anything and the filters are gone. There is a cost. It’s like you have a sore that a band-aid can’t cover, and the hurt continues until you have to go in for surgery. It literally feels like we need surgery to repair the damage that’s been done from the hurtful things being said and how they have been handled. It’s difficult. We all have to work together and start to have some very uncomfortable conversations about race.

What have you gained from working in this position?

This is my passion. I’ve been doing this since I started college at the University of Pittsburgh. If you had asked me back then, as a work-study student in the Engineering Impact Program , would I be here now, I probably would’ve told you no. But as I progressed through school and interacted with the program at Pitt, I understood how important it was to create a pipeline of minority students to be computer scientists and engineers. So, being in this space, I love to be able to help students transition and figure out what it is that they’re supposed to do.

A lot of times, students know but sometimes they’re just not sure or it doesn’t all work out, and they need to navigate that space where they’re okay to think of doing something different and maybe coming back to it later. I feel good about what I do on a day-to-day basis, and that in some small way I’m able to help students get from point A to point B. And while they’re getting there, regardless of what happens in between, that they understand that it’s okay to have challenges, even while others may be saying, “Oh you need to do something different. Engineering is not for you.” It may not be right now, but if they have a passion and it’s their desire, no one can tell them that they can’t do something. The timing may not always be right, but everything happens in due time and sometimes you have to go through challenges to get where you want to be. I enjoy seeing students who believe in themselves, know that they are going to be successful and have the confidence to do whatever it is that they want to do.

What have been some of your most impactful experiences with students, faculty and staff here at NC State?

It’s always with students. I especially appreciate it when students view me as part of their family – and when they leave NC State, that they stay in touch. I appreciate the wedding invitations or the “Ms. Angie, I’m having a baby” and to be involved with their major life events. I always want students to feel like they are part of a family; that’s what I received at the University of Pittsburgh – I’m still in contact with the director there to this day. When you meet people on your journey through life, there is a reason and a season for them to connect and be in your space. The network is always there no matter what the need, whether it be professional, personal or emotional. Sometimes students graduate and go through challenges and I’m still there, almost like a counselor. I appreciate that part of it; it makes me feel even better about not only helping with the academic but also the personal, emotional and mental development of students even after they leave here.

Angelitha Daniel was interviewed by Austin Butler, communications intern in the Office for Institutional Equity and Diversity.

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