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Oklahoma State University

OSU, DASNR preparing students for a diverse world

Friday, February 10, 2017

Listen closely to folks around Oklahoma State University’s Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources and you may hear talk of manners. Maybe they are referring to common courtesies, but there also is a chance they are alluding to Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences, or MANRRS.

National in scope, the organization’s mission is to promote academic and professional advancement by empowering minorities in agriculture, natural resources and related sciences.

Two years ago, a student chapter of the organization was chartered at OSU and is now housed in the division’s College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources.

These days, as the group works toward finding its rhythm and carving its niche in the broad landscape of student groups on campus, some members of the OSU MANRRS contingent have already gotten a taste of what the organization offers through attendance at its national conference.

“MANRRS is an organization with a national network that provides a lot of great opportunities for students,” said Cynda Clary, associate dean of CASNR. “Membership is open to students of all backgrounds. It’s meant to be a place to help students connect with each other as well as build their network and set of professional skills.”

MANRRS is only one aspect of the ongoing diversity efforts in play across both the university and DASNR.

“Certainly as we are in the business of sending students into the world, our goal is not just to graduate students but to graduate students who are socially, culturally and globally competent,” said Jason Kirksey, OSU vice president for institutional diversity. “You do that when you’ve got diversity of the student population, faculty and staff as well as interactions and engagements that promote a broader sense of understanding of the world that surrounds us.”

OSU’s diversity efforts take a strategic, wide-ranging approach. For instance, in addition to being one of only a handful of universities nationally with a diversity course requirement for undergraduates, careful attention also is paid to the types of programming done across the university each year in terms of speakers and other events.

OSU has been frequently recognized for its efforts. The university was the recipient of the 2016 Institutional Excellence Award from National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education, and has won Insight Into Diversity magazine’s Higher Education Excellence in Diversity award five consecutive years.

DASNR both benefits from and contributes to the university’s broader diversity efforts.

Given its status as a public entity, OSU and the division are called to serve the full breadth of Oklahoma’s residents, regardless of background, said Tom Coon, vice president, DASNR.

“That’s our responsibility, to be available and responsive to people from all backgrounds,” he said. “If we’re going to be effective at that, as an organization we need to understand the needs of different ethnic and racial groups, different regions. The best way to do that is to have a diverse group of students, faculty and Extension educators. In terms of being able to live up to our responsibility in meeting the needs of all the people, we need to look like all the people.”

While acknowledging there is still work for the division to do, Coon said DASNR is working to promote diversity.

Recruiting prospective students, faculty and staff from a diverse pool of candidates is a priority, as well as ensuring students have a strong grasp of skills necessary for working in a diverse workforce.

Interestingly, according to CASNR enrollment data for the fall of 2016, the college drew students from all 77 Oklahoma counties, 45 states and 39 countries, including the United States. CASNR also registered a 33.7 percent increase in minority student enrollment since 2013.

Extension is reaching a variety of audiences as well. The 4-H program is active with multiple Sovereign Nations in the state. Extension continues to expand its roster of bilingual and Spanish-only curriculums and workshops, while also providing ongoing nutrition education to low-income individuals and families.

Coon said it also is a matter of aggressively filling faculty and other positions through a diverse candidate pool in an effort to capitalize on differing perspectives researchers bring to their work.

“Diversity is an asset in your workforce. By having people from different backgrounds and experiences, such as geographical and socioeconomic, we end up with a richer suite of insights and skills,” he said. “As we wrestle with different challenges, having a diverse of group of experiences at the table as we design our research, conduct Extension programs or deliver courses really gives us a better product, a richer product, if you will, because it’s capitalizing on that greater breadth of insight.”

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