October 07, 2009

Rolando Arroyo-Sucre

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By Julia Ferrante

LEWISBURG, Pa. -- For decades, colleges and universities have sought to make their campuses more diverse by recruiting underrepresented students, faculty and staff and enhancing programming to create a feeling of inclusiveness.

Those efforts have met with varying degrees of success, but the challenge of meeting diversity goals continues, said Rolando Arroyo-Sucre, the chief officer for diversity and equity at Bucknell University, where officials are taking a different approach.

"Initiatives developed from the top down tend to create diversity silos removed from the centrality of the institutional educational missions," Arroyo-Sucre said. "We are instead creating a level of engagement among students and faculty that doesn't happen very often at other universities."

Cross-disciplinary programs
Bucknell's diversity office is working to make the central Pennsylvania campus more inclusive, with cross-disciplinary programs that provide students with real-life experiences mentoring prospective college students from diverse backgrounds in New York City and Chicago and in schools close to campus. The programs have the dual benefit of introducing Bucknell students to varying life perspectives and urban issues while preparing the high school students to apply to private, selective, liberal arts colleges and universities.

About 40 professors and 250 Bucknell students are participating in diversity-building efforts including:

  • "Issues of the 21st Century," a weekend event during which prospective college students visit Bucknell and engage in classroom discussions on a topic such as money from a variety of academic perspectives.
  • "Bridges to Higher Learning," a mentoring program in local high schools with students of varying socio-economic means.
  • "Exploring the Realms of Knowledge," a partnership with the community-based organization FIVER Children's Foundation in New York City through which Bucknell students and faculty develop a three-year connection with children ages 8 to 18.
  • "New Frontiers of Knowledge," an outgrowth of the "Issues" event that involves long-term peer mentoring and faculty webinars.

The Bucknell approach is built on the idea that diversity-embracing cannot be mandated but must be learned and that efforts should center on campus-wide "ownership" of inclusiveness and cultural awareness, Arroyo-Sucre said.

Chicago conference
"New Frontiers" will begin with a conference Oct. 23-25 in Chicago. About 30 Bucknell students and six faculty members will participate, serving as mentors and giving lectures to students from nine area high schools on one issue: money, from a variety of perspectives. Groups of eight to 10 high school students will be paired with peer mentors from Bucknell and other universities, given readings centered on the topic of food, and attend lectures by professors. The students also will be required to give a presentation based on what they learn during the conference.

Chicago is the first city to implement this project as a way to better prepare local high school students who are less likely to have the tools for admission and academic achievement at private, selective, liberal arts institutions, Arroyo-Sucre said.

Dual benefit
Bucknell's participation in "New Frontiers" was organized by the diversity office and the Office of Enrollment Management. The program grew out of a pilot program, "Issues of the 21st Century," in which students from varying backgrounds spent the weekend at Bucknell, taking classes and discussing a single topic from varying perspectives. Frontiers will have the dual benefit of bringing Bucknell students to Chicago area high schools, where they may interact with culturally diverse groups. It also could attract potential underrepresented applicants to Bucknell, Arroyo-Sucre said.

"Bucknell students, serving as peer mentors, develop leadership skills in a culturally diverse context, have the opportunity for meaningful community service and civic engagement and develop cultural competency skills," Arroyo-Sucre said. "This is to provide students at Bucknell with cultural competency skills by creating situations that are intentionally structured and sustained interactions across differences. These are skills that make them competent to walk into any environment."

Starting early
"Exploring the Realms of Knowledge" is a developing a partnership with the FIVER Children's Foundation in New York City, a community-based organization. The idea is to develop a three-year connection among Bucknell faculty and students and 9th-, 10th- and 11th-graders. The high school students will gain a better understanding of college academic and social expectations as well as critical thinking, problem solving skills and writing skills through virtual mentoring, team projects, academic workshops in New York City and a summer course at Bucknell.

In spring 2010, Bucknell faculty will offer online humanities workshops every six weeks for the high school students, who will be expected to prepare with readings and small group discussions before the online workshops. Two weeks after the workshops, they must complete individual or team assignments such as power point presentations or brief papers.

Collaborative efforts
These programs are the result of collaborative efforts in which all stakeholders are part of the planning, development and implementation of various programs. The hope is that diversity will build organically -- beyond recruitment and retention -- and that students involved in the efforts will build awareness and leadership skills. Arroyo-Sucre said.

"Through virtual and face-to-face interactions with prospective college students, the Bucknell students will gain a better understanding of diverse backgrounds while offering their experiences to the underrepresented students," he said. "The long-term goal is that students will become stronger global leaders and have a better understanding of diversity. Bucknell is not coming here from a position of power. Bucknell is coming here with a project that will benefit both our students and the participating high school students."

Contact: Division of Communications

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