Ill. education board aims to focus on diversity

By Amanda Graf

The Illinois Board of Higher Education has established the Diversity and Outreach Executive Position. The new position will aid efforts to bring greater attention to the attainment of higher education at four-year colleges and universities among minority, disadvantaged and low-income students in Illinois.

“It was created as a way of allowing the Illinois Board of Higher Education to continue to exert leadership and our core value of diversification,” said Terry Nunn, who was appointed the deputy director of the Diversity and Outreach division.

Judy Erwin, executive director of the Illinois Board of Higher education, said Nunn has a combination of interest and experience in working toward increasing diversity in Illinois colleges and universities.

According to a press release from the Illinois Board of Higher Education, Nunn will also become the State Director for the Board’s Diversifying Higher Education Faculty in Illinois Program. Nunn will direct the $2.8 million grant program administered by the Board to encourage minority graduate students to complete academic programs, leading to faculty positions in Illinois.

Nunn said his goals for the new division include working collaboratively with colleges and universities to improve educational attainment and improving the representation of minority faculty on Illinois campuses.

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    “I think nation-wide we have an issue with colleges and universities not reflecting the student population among its faculty,” Nunn said, adding that students need faculty members they can relate to as “mentors and effective role models.”

    “We have to deal with the obstacles that prevent us from providing the staff we want to see,” said Michael L. Jeffries, associate dean of students and director of the Office of Minority Student Affairs at the University.

    Jeffries said a more diverse and representative faculty can be attained by encouraging students from underrepresented backgrounds to pursue careers in academics and graduate school.

    “We need to get students motivated and then provide the resources and pathways for them to achieve that,” Jeffries said.

    On campus, the Office of Minority Student Affairs collaborates with other departments and colleges to encourage underrepresented students to come to the University and create a “campus climate that is more nurturing for students of color,” Jeffries said.

    Nunn said the Diversity and Outreach program will work with Illinois colleges and universities to find out what programs and strategies are already in place that are effectively encouraging and assisting underrepresented students, and share them with other schools in the state.

    “Improving the educational attainment of underrepresented groups in higher education must be a primary focus for the State of Illinois and (the Board),” Erwin said. “If we want our state to be an attractive place to work … we need to have an educated constituency.”