Michelle Jones-Johnson sits at her desk, facing the camera with her hands folded in front of her. She's smiling, and is wearing a gray jacket and blue top.

Building a Thriving and Inclusive Community

Guest posting by Michelle Jones-Johnson, VP for Talent Development and Chief Diversity Officer

August 1, 2017
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As a global polytechnic, we know success depends on a cohesive community where members are mindful of the world’s complexities, consider how our work here matters, and take action to make WPI’s campus both diverse and inclusive.

At WPI we believe building a community that is welcoming, accepting, appreciative, and open to many opinions is a priority and reflects a larger global landscape that affects us all. The United Nations estimates 11.2 billion people will populate the world by century’s end—it is clear our responsibility to promote and achieve a culture respectful of diverse backgrounds, thoughts, and beliefs is vital.

The WPI community is only a microcosm of the larger global society, but to progress successfully as a university within the changing global atmosphere, we cannot assume we honor diversity based on the differences of our physical appearance or any other single factor. To truly embrace, learn from, and honor the many backgrounds and experiences of those in the WPI community, inclusion and a sense of belonging must become the essential fabric of WPI.

Michelle Jones-Johnson

To bring the university’s commitment to life, WPI launched “Project Inclusion” this spring, a new initiative that will bring the community together to assess our current efforts toward cultivating an inclusive environment and guide us through value-driven initiatives that will inform the institutional framework to strengthen the culture at WPI.

While we continue to make progress in these areas, we are excited about the opportunities ahead. Working with external facilitators this past spring, WPI completed Project Inclusion’s Phase 1, a New England Resource Center for Higher Education (NERCHE)-designed self-assessment. Phase 1 offered an overview of WPI’s established initiatives and illuminated any gaps where we can make structural changes that are impactful and sustainable.

WPI is now ready to move into Phase 2 of Project Inclusion, guided by NERCHE’s self-assessment rubric that will review diversity, equity, and inclusion in the university environment. Over the next three years, the WPI community will assess current practices, set goals for a future vision, outline the steps needed to get there, and begin implementing those changes.

As we move into Phase 2 of Project Inclusion, I am excited to introduce Peter Hansen, professor of history and director of international and global studies at WPI, as co-chair of this initiative who will join me supporting the work of the Rubric Steering Committee (RSC). Committee members will use information from Project Inclusion’s Readiness Assessment Report to inform them as they prioritize the following six identified dimensions:

  • Philosophy and Mission
  • Faculty Support
  • Curriculum, Pedagogy, and Research
  • Staff Engagement and Involvement
  • Student Support
  • Administrative Leadership and Institutional Support

Project Inclusion’s efforts are driven by input and direction from the wider WPI community, not WPI administrators or external facilitators. The strength of this initiative is that it allows for campus wide discussion and reflection around diversity and inclusion issues, but it also offers the infrastructure to make these changes possible.

We are looking forward to the discoveries this approach brings to campus. Our community has valuable and relevant experiences, knowledge, and resources that can inspire new ways of tackling challenges. To be a community that truly welcomes and honors diversity and inclusion, we need to recognize that new ways of thinking and approaches can lead to huge breakthroughs in meeting our goals.

With careful listening and effective planning and implementation, Project Inclusion will foster an environment where community members feel heard and engaged and can see how their opinions lead to real change. By recognizing the valuable experiences and perceptions each person brings to the table, we believe that faculty, students, and staff will feel personally invested in WPI and in what happens here. Project Inclusion elevates our community’s capacity to create impactful change that fuels diversity of thought, personal expression, and individual experiences and fosters a community that thrives together.

We would like to express our gratitude to the members of the newly formed Rubric Steering Committee who have agreed to invest their time and energy to champion this initiative over the next academic year.

Rubric Steering Committee Members

Chair: Michelle Jones-Johnson, VP for Talent Development and Chief Diversity Officer

Co-Chair: Peter Hansen, Humanities & Arts; Director, International and Global Studies

WPI PI Institutional Liaison: Bonnie Walker, Executive Director, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy

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Staff

Alison Donta-Venman, Director, Institutional Research

Michael Jacobs, sergeant, Campus Police

Rachel LeBlanc, Assistant Vice President, CPE

Andrew Palumbo, Dean, Admissions and Financial Aid

Paula Quinn, Associate Director, Center for Project-Based Learning

Charlana Simmons, Director, Multicultural Affairs

Ali Soofi, Administrative Assistant, CDC

Kristopher Sullivan, Assistant Vice President, Academic Affairs

Tom Thomsen, Director, International Students and Scholars Office

Casey Wall, Director, Residential Services

Faculty

Corey Dehner, Associate Teaching Professor, Interdisciplinary & Global Studies; Director, Worcester Community Project Center: Community Empowerment and Environmental Responsibility; Co-director; Massachusetts Water Resource Outreach Center

Chrys Demetry, Director, Morgan Teaching & Learning Center, Associate Professor, Mechanical Engineering, Materials Science and Engineering Program

Adrienne Hall-Phillips, Associate Professor, Foisie Business School

Stephen Kmiotek, Professor of Practice, Chemical Engineering

Susan Celia Roberts, Department Head and Professor, Chemical Engineering

Wole Soboyejo, Dean of Engineering

Lisa Stoddard, Assistant Teaching Professor, Environmental & Sustainability Studies

Suzanne Weekes, Professor, Mathematics

Kris Wobbe, Associate Dean, Undergraduate Studies

Students

Carlie Alfaro ’18, Founder and President, Student Advocacy Group

Thomas Mackintosh ’19, Student Staff Member, Residential Services

Kazim Shaikh ’18, President, Muslim Student Association