CFANS Office of Diversity and Inclusion Welcomes Ballard and Mitchell

CFANS recently welcomed Joseph Ballard II and Sandra Mitchell to the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. Ballard serves as Coordinator for Diversity Retention and Recruitment and Mitchell as Intercultural Education Program Specialist. We had a few moments to sit down with them both and find out more about their passions, as well as discuss their individual goals within their respective positions.

Gregory Cuomo, Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Programs, said, "We are thrilled to have Joseph and Sandra as part of CFANS diversity efforts.The land-grant mission, at its core, is about access to education and opportunities for everyone. The skill and passion Joseph and Sandra bring to their work will help CFANS and the U become the institution we envision for ourselves."

Q: Briefly describe your new role in CFANS and in the Office for Diversity and Inclusion?

Ballard: In my new role as the Coordinator for Diversity Retention and Recruitment for CFANS, I am responsible for creating and leading the student diversity efforts, programs, and initiatives for CFANS; primarily the retention and assisting with the recruitment of students from underrepresented communities; including students of color, LGBTQIA, and other underrepresented groups for both undergraduate and graduate students. I also oversee the Community Outreach, Engagement, and Marketing/Communication efforts for the Office.

I also serve as one of the advisors of the UMN Chapter of Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Sciences (MANRRS). Additionally, I work with many units within the Office for Equity and Diversity student access and support units such as MCAE, Women’s Center, CORE, North Star STEM Alliance, and the Gender and Sexuality Center for Queer and Trans Life along with units in Student Affairs (Multicultural Student Engagement) and Academic Affairs (Office of Undergraduate Education and Graduate Student Diversity Office, for example) on university-wide initiatives and programs related to the recruitment and retention of underrepresented students.

Mitchell: I serve as the Intercultural Education Program Specialist. In this role, I am responsible for providing education and training primarily for faculty and staff on a variety of issues related to diversity, inclusion, and equity. Some of the topics look at specific issues such as microaggressions or understanding implicit bias, while others focus on teaching practice such as inclusive pedagogy and integrating issues of diversity into the curriculum. I am also the co-adviser for MANNRS with Joseph Ballard II.

Q: How were you drawn to the work you do here at CFANS?

Ballard: I was drawn to doing the work of social justice, diversity, and creating opportunities to assist with the recruitment, retention, and graduation of students from underrepresented communities from my time at Oklahoma State University as an undergraduate student, where I was involved in a variety of multicultural student organizations. The one experience that opened my eyes to this work was during my experience working for the University’s Minority Recruitment and Retention Programs office, where I served as a Peer Mentor to the first-year students who participated in several of the Office’s programs and initiatives. By hearing their experience, it opened my eyes to what is now my passion; to provide access, support, and community for students from these underrepresented and marginalized communities so that they know 1) they will have access to this educational opportunity; 2) they will have the resources, community, and support to transition and be successful during their college experience; and 3) they will graduate from college with all they need to be successful and to truly live out their own American Dream.

Mitchell: I have been doing diversity, equity, and inclusion work for many years both formally and informally. Over time I realized that my calling is to work to help people understand each other; to become stronger, not in spite of their differences, but because of them. For me, I see diversity, equity and inclusion work as my contribution to building a better world. Doing this work in CFANS is even more important because the very work of the college is rooted in the most basic of human needs, in other words, serving humankind.  

Q: What part of leadership work do you enjoy the most?

Mitchell: I enjoy being part of the transformation of individuals and institutions. Whether it is working with a student who timidly arrives on our campus and emerges later empowered to use their voice for themselves and the betterment of others, or helping an organization move toward cultural competence in its policies and practices, I enjoy witnessing change.

Ballard: In terms of this work, the part that I enjoy the most is honestly the opportunity to be the voice for and be able to fully advocate for students from underrepresented communities and seeing them truly grow, find community, feel supported/appreciated/valued, and living out their own dreams and goals that they set for themselves.

Q: What can CFANS students expect when they come to you?

Mitchell: Students can expect to meet someone who is both passionate and compassionate. In my current role, I see myself as a conduit or translator of faculty and staff interests to student needs. As an advisor to MANRRS, I think students can expect to brainstorm ideas about the group and about developing their own leadership potential. Most importantly, students who come to me can expect to meet someone who has been in their shoes, genuinely values them, and wants to empower them to succeed in whatever way they define success.

Ballard: When students come to me, they can expect to see and meet someone who is passionate about this work but most importantly someone who cares deeply about them, their experiences, and be that person to be their advocate, encourager, support, mentor, and role model. Also, they can expect a good time where we will be laughing at least twice during the meeting.

Q: What can faculty and staff tell our students about what services you provide?

Ballard: Faculty and staff can tell students that the Office for Diversity and Inclusion in CFANS provides life and academic support coaching/support, programming such as the CFANS Achieve Peer Mentoring Program, our Office for Diversity and Inclusion Success Workshops, ODI Student Ambassadors, and a lot more in store in terms of Student Diversity Programs and Initiatives. We also have MANRRS, which is our amazing multicultural student organization open to anyone from any underrepresented or marginalized background who hosts in collaboration with our office; the Multicultural Student Kick-Off, which is a formal introduction and welcome for all students from underrepresented communities in CFANS to both the University of Minnesota and CFANS; along with a variety of professional, social, community building and development, and service-learning activities.

Mitchell: Because my work is primarily with faculty and staff, I think faculty can remind students that we all have room to grow. My role is to provide a place to nurture that growth in understanding diversity, equity, and inclusion. They can certainly let students know that I am a resource for learning.

Q: What is one of your greatest hopes for what you’ll create in your new position?

Ballard: Wow, this is a huge question. I have so many hopes, but one that is forever prevalent in my mind is that I hope that with this role that ALL CFANS students from any underrepresented community see the Office for Diversity and Inclusion as a place of support, comfort, and one where they feel comfortable to be themselves, and are able to find their own sense of community and belonging through our programming, support, advocacy, and space.  

Mitchell: My greatest hope is that ongoing deeper discussions about diversity, equity, and social justice become a natural part of our existence, the norm and not the exception. I would love to see everyone realize that diversity is in everyone's business, not just the folks from minoritized groups.  

Q: What is one thing you wish you had known when you were an undergrad that you’d like to share with our students?

Mitchell: I am an introvert and I have always been quite shy so as a student I rarely spoke. Over the years I have learned that neither of these traits means that you do not have a voice. Even if you are not comfortable being vocal in class (when you know the answer), you can still make your point known (email or online platforms such as Blackboard allow space for students to speak directly with faculty and peers). But we must also stretch ourselves by doing something that makes us uncomfortable now and again. Challenge yourself to use your voice to advocate for yourself and for others.

Ballard: College is definitely about getting prepared for your future career, but most importantly your time in college is a time for you to find yourself and create your own path towards success and happiness. Try new things and explore the world. Use this college experience to build and find your community of support and encouragement to help you navigate the college experience, including faculty and staff. Embrace the journey and use this experience for YOU and not others.

Associate Dean for Academic Programs and Faculty Affairs Michael White summarized the excitement CFANS shares in welcoming Ballard and Mitchell by saying, “I cannot tell you how excited we are to have Joseph and Sandra here at CFANS ODI. They bring tremendous experience, skill, and excitement to our collegiate diversity and inclusion efforts that will propel us forward while enhancing and amplifying the effectiveness of existing and new programs. We are so pleased to have Joseph and Sandra on board.”