Diversified Assets: Expanding the Reach of the MPC

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When Human Resources Associate Mia Riza and Research Associate David Haynes took on the task of creating a diversity program for the MPC in 2015, they looked to their pasts. “I thought of experiences that would have helped me as a student,” says Haynes.

As an undergraduate student, Riza had participated in a diversity program with the Minnesota Historical Society run by Chris Taylor. That program provided a model for fostering professional growth within an academic environment. Haynes and Riza then designed a program that suited the needs of the projects at the MPC. “We thought that a summer opportunity would work best for the Center and also matched students’ needs as they looked for summer internships,” explains Riza, “We want to develop a talent pipeline so that when we have openings later, we have qualified diverse applicants to fill those roles.”

The two consulted with MPC project managers to determine which skills the students could gain and build upon over a summer term, and how those skills could be put to use to benefit the Center. Working with the project managers, Riza and Haynes created projects and goals for a group of six students, three graduate students and three undergraduates.

Recruiting students at different academic levels was an important part of the program explains Riza, “We had the idea that the undergraduates would work with the graduate students on the projects so that they could develop another relationship. There is a mentor, a grad student, and an undergraduate working together on the project. The mentor works with them both, but there is also an expectation that the graduate students mentor the undergraduate students. We had the graduates start two weeks earlier to get up to speed on the projects, and then we asked them to teach while they were learning. That’s a big task, but they all seemed up for it. We had conversations with them about how they can best work together and learn from each other. We were pleased to hear during one-on-one conversations that this was happening.”

Riza goes on to explain, “Part of the challenge of the program is finding the experience that is appropriate for the levels of the students: preparing undergraduate students to be able to take on graduate researcher roles and preparing graduate students to take on their specific MPC projects.”
“We really worked with the project managers to figure out how they could break down their projects into tasks that each student would understand,” Haynes elaborates. “The undergraduates might have more basic questions, but then we talk about it and they get exposure to what we do. This helps open up their eyes to other research paths.”

Two professional development opportunities put on by MPC for the Diversity Fellows also provided guidance. In one event Noro Andriamanalina from the University of Minnesota Office for Equity led a workshop on crafting CVs and resumes. In another, the MPC convened a mentoring panel of faculty and professional staff from underrepresented backgrounds working in STEM fields to discuss their career paths with the fellows. “It was an intimate and informal gathering,” says Riza. “The students got a lot out of it and the panelists were excited about it.” Haynes adds, “One of our students made a real connection networking with a speaker after the program.”

“David and I sat in on the resume workshop” says Riza, “and we came away with valuable insights as well.”

After a great first experience, Haynes and Riza are starting to think about the program moving forward next year, reflecting on lessons learned, and how the program could be improved for the next cohort of students. One of those items is the recruiting of the students themselves. Haynes and Riza had success working with Noro Andriamanalina to recruit the first cohort of students. Her connection with the Community of Scholars program provided them with a valuable tool in reaching graduate students of color. “She helped get the word out,” explains Haynes. “Noro also knew students that she could tap on the shoulder and say, hey, this might be a good opportunity for you.”

The room for growth for the MPC team is in recruiting undergraduates. Haynes explains, “There are more and better ways to get the word out about what we have to offer. Grads are really looking for opportunities like this and undergrads don’t really understand how it would be useful for them.”
While the primary goal for creating the program may have been increasing MPC’s future job candidate pool, the program provided some unexpected benefits for the Center. For example, never before had there been any coordination with the Department of Actuarial Science. Through the program, the MPC received an introduction to that department and found a new audience for MPC data.

“There are people right here on campus that want, and can use, our data,” Haynes explains. “There are qualified students of color in these other fields that are ready to contribute. Actuarial science—we had around 20 students apply from that department. Now we have new departments we can talk to about ways our data can be used for research. We are building stronger connections with other groups like the School of Public Health. We are diversifying not just in terms of color or race, but in terms of the research that students are able to pursue.”

Haynes and Riza have been diligent in soliciting feedback from everyone involved in the new program, and the two have been pleased by the responses. Several MPC staff members noted to Haynes and Riza that they were anticipating a highly competent group of students to take on challenging projects, and they were not disappointed. Riza says, “They are pleased with the quality of the applicants. The fellows’ contributions to the projects have really exceeded their mentors’ expectations.”

Of course the best feedback about the program has come from the students themselves. Riza explains, “They are very excited about MPC and want to stay forever. I’ve heard some of them say, ‘I want to come back here when I graduate. This has changed what I want to do.’”

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