In this issue, the Digest interviews Dr. Regina Gavin Williams, director for student engagement and diversity coordinator in the College of Education. She first served in the position as interim director beginning in fall 2015 and resumed the position in an official capacity beginning in June 2016.
Dr. Williams has a Ph.D. in counseling and counselor education from NC State, an M.Ed. in school counseling from Valdosta State University, and a B.S. in psychology with a minor in women’s studies from the University of Georgia. She has spent her career working in the field of higher education/student affairs with undergraduate students, beginning in housing and residence life where she oversaw living-learning communities (LLCs), partnered with first-year programs and multicultural affairs offices and advised multiple residential and campus student organizations. As a licensed professional counselor, she has also previously worked as a clinician serving families in underserved communities.
What are the current diversity programs and initiatives in the College of Education, and how have they grown and developed over the years?
Progressive Growth Units
The College of Education is committed to leading the way in North Carolina in increasing opportunities for success in education and reducing achievement gaps. This stands as our vision for the college. In this regard, our diversity programming and outreach opportunities will always reflect this vision as we prepare our students, both in and outside of the classroom, to become culturally competent educators. One initiative we provide is progressive growth units (PGUs). PGUs are professional development programs that foster a career-long commitment to learning and professional development and are required for our undergraduate students seeking initial licensure. Students must complete 4.5 PGUs prior to graduation. Several programs offered through the PGU series each semester allow for our pre-service educators to learn more about how they can become better trained to serve and be aware of the educational, academic and personal/social needs of all students within K-12 classrooms and school communities. This program has grown significantly throughout the years, with faculty/staff both in and outside of the college submitting educational programming to be offered to our students. Some examples of previous diversity-related PGU programs were the Black History Month Speaker Series, Activities for a Diverse Classroom, Supporting Hispanic/Latino Students & Families in K-12 Schools and K-12 Educators Understanding Culture, among others.
Additionally, it is important for our students to engage in school communities where they are most needed as future educators and prior to their student teaching experience. In this regard, we have initiatives such as the Teaming with the Tigers (TWT) group in partnership with Creech Road Elementary. TWT, a collaborative effort between the Multicultural Young Educators Network (MYEN) and the Passport to Success program, was created to help 4th and 5th-grade students at Creech Road be successful, resilient and empowered young leaders in their school and local communities. CED students serve as group leaders in the program, helping the 15 participants navigate what it means to contribute to society and work together to build strong peer-to-peer relationships. Another program offered through the College of Education is called L.E.A.D. (Linking, Empowering, Avoiding Dropout), led by Robin McWilliams, director of the Students Advocating for Youth (SAY) Village. Beginning as a primary prevention program for middle school students in 2014, L.E.A.D. has grown into a life skills mentoring group for 9th-grade female students at Athens Drive High School, where student volunteers serve as coaches. Furthermore, the Multicultural Young Educators Network (MYEN) is a student organization within our college that was created to promote unity among diverse groups of students, to prepare future educators to be competent in diverse environments and to perform service projects related to education with a focus on cultural awareness. MYEN hosts a variety of community service projects and cultural workshops to help diverse students connect within the College of Education.
Outreach for Career and College Readiness
We’ve also established a new outreach program called the Brothers United in Leadership Development (BUILD) Summit. BUILD is designed to expose 9th -11th-grade high school male students, in particular male students of color, to the diverse role of leaders in a growing global society. Through the summit, participants learn leadership skills, see the variety of academic disciplines in the education field, develop skills to enhance their career and college readiness, interact with college student leaders, university faculty, community leaders, and K-12 teachers and administrators and increase their knowledge about the post-secondary education environment. Last spring, we had approximately 100 participants from surrounding counties join us for the summit. Many of our college faculty, staff and students across campus contributed their time to ensure this event’s success. Following the summit, we invited 30 of these former participants back to Poe Hall for the BUILD Academy in October, where they focused on team-building and communication skills in a more intimate group setting. This year, BUILD Summit will take place on March 25, 2017, and we expect at least 100 more young men to join us.
Faculty and Staff Involvement
Faculty and staff also contribute greatly to the mission and vision of the College of Education as it relates to diversity, equity and inclusion. In particular, I serve as an ex-officio member of COMID (Council on Multicultural Initiatives and Diversity), led by Dr. Valerie Faulkner. COMID was formed in 2007 and is comprised of faculty, administrators, deans and graduate student representatives. This committee serves as a sounding board for diversity issues and concerns within the college. COMID also hosts the Tuesdays Together series, which was created to discuss issues that arise within our college through current events or faculty interest. Some of the Tuesday Together presentation topics have included adjusting readings to include issues of inclusiveness and diversity in STEM and design courses, and Still Endangered: Black Males Answering the Call to Teach in NC Public Schools.
Lastly, my office is also responsible for producing the VISION newsletter, published bi-monthly as a resource for the multicultural student community in the College of Education. VISION includes highlights of student successes, articles of interest to future educators, upcoming events, diversity issues and more. The newsletter often features articles written by current College of Education students.
What are the major goals and areas of focus of your work in the College of Education?
Recruitment, Retention and Skill Development
The major goals and areas of focus of my work within the college fall within three main areas: recruitment, retention and skill development. In this regard, I recognize that we have a smaller number of students of color who enter our college each year, and thus also a small number of people of color who graduate and enter into the teaching profession. Part of my job is to recruit more students of color, not only into our college, but to promote their integral position as influential educators who are needed in ever-growing, diverse, K-12 school systems. The College of Education classroom and its academic programs must be more reflective of the diversity populations represented in 21st century U.S. classrooms, and we are working hard to make this happen. As a diversity coordinator I am able to monitor the progress of my students of color from orientation to graduation. I also offer the USC 110 “Freshman Advancement” course each Fall for my first-year students of color, where I am able to teach them academic success strategies for the college environment with an emphasis on issues of diversity in teacher education.
Goal and Vision
In my role, it is my goal to help to create a safe, supportive, welcoming and inclusive environment for all CED undergraduate students; this is accomplished by providing individual support services and resources through the office in which I work, the Student Success and Advising Center, by providing diversity programming, connecting students with faculty outside of the classroom and most importantly, connecting them with one another as pre-service teachers through our student organizations, outreach initiatives and opportunities to serve as CED student leaders. I stand behind my personal motto for them, Educators Who Lead, because I truly do feel they have what it takes to continue to change the scope of education within North Carolina and across the nation, and it all starts with their academic preparation and the out-of-classroom experiences they gain right here in our college. As I explain to my students, by the time they graduate from our college, they would have most likely served on one of our student panels, joined one of our student organizations, talked to prospective teacher education students, participated in local youth outreach initiatives and/or engaged in opportunities to build relationships with one another because it is important for their own cross-cultural skill development and their identity as educators. Moreover, I strive to help them both understand and facilitate the educational needs of all students as future teachers. I hope to continue to create spaces for students to explore and celebrate their cultural differences and engage them in discussions surrounding diversity issues in education. Our students are sought out for teaching positions across the state, and I do believe this is a testament to what they receive and what they choose to do when they walk in and out of our doors.
Do you have any additional thoughts or reflections regarding diversity, equity and inclusion at NC State and how you hope to see NC State changing in the coming years?
Faculty, staff and administrators must continue to work together across campus to create an inclusive, safe and supportive environment for all students. We must continue to both listen to and understand the needs of our students while also letting their voices be heard. We must also create opportunities for them to positively engage in the surrounding communities and encourage them to make a huge impact within our state, the U.S., and abroad. What more wonderful place to do that than at NC State, located within the capital city of North Carolina! Our students are creative, they are activists, they are gifted. They see the world and they want to change it for the better, and we must continue to be the catalyst that fosters this growth. Furthermore, we must continue to do our part to recruit students who are reflective of the growing diversity within our nation. In the way we view the U.S. as a salad bowl, so too must NC State be reflective of this. I am super proud to be both a recent graduate and staff member of the Wolfpack, and I stand in solidarity with other members of the Wolfpack in creating the best environment we possibly can for our students.