Two teams and one individual from the College of LSA were honored with Distinguished Diversity Leaders Awards on December 6. Established in 2008, the awards recognize outstanding University partners for their extraordinary efforts to support diversity on campus and beyond.

Recipients included the LSA laptop loan program, whose nomination was submitted by LSA associate deans Angela Dillard and James Penner-Hahn. The program, which offers students from lower socioeconomic statuses a free laptop to use for the duration of their time at the University, has already served 435 undergraduates.

“The goal of the LSA laptop loan program is to help LSA to provide a more inclusive learning environment by ensuring that low-income students have access to the same laptop computing capabilities that are available to students from higher socioeconomic strata,” says Penner-Hahn, the George A. Lindsay Collegiate Professor of Chemistry and Biophysics and associate dean for budget and planning for LSA.

The laptop program, administered and managed by staff members Lisa Ahlgren, Gretchen Kopmanis, Susan Perreault, Erin Ranville, Rob Wilke, and Justin Day, has received an overwhelmingly positive response from participants. It has also been credited with helping to retain participating students, many of whom are from underrepresented groups.

The LSA Student Affairs Committee for Intercultural Development (CID) also won a team award for their efforts to develop cultural competency and awareness among staff and academic advisors. Members of the committee include chair Jeff Harrold, David Brawn, Evan Copeland, Denise Guillot, Lara Hamza, Liese Hull, Charles Taylor, Kierra Trotter, and Ching-Yune Sylvester; the nomination was submitted by Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Education Esrold Nurse.

The CID group has not only organized a benchmarking survey, but has also invited guest speakers to address LSA Student Academic Affairs and Comprehensive Studies Program staff, partnered with other groups and organizations to develop its own diversity training programs when existing ones were inadequate, and organized impromptu campus discussions in response to local and national events. The CID also hosts a popular Martin Luther King Day open-mic event, which has drawn over 100 attendees from the community each year.

“Some of the work CID has done is in changing the climate and expectations in our department, allowing time and space for important conversations to happen,” says Nurse. “Over the last few years, the mission has expanded to include making opportunities available to a broader group of staff across the College and University, as well as collaborating with other campus units to develop new programming to meet staff and student needs.”

Cornelius Wright, a student services coordinator in the Department of Chemistry, received the final LSA award. Wright, who oversees advising, recruiting, admissions, grading, awards, and social activities for over 800 chemistry undergraduates and graduate students, was instrumental in establishing the Detroit Research Internships Summer Experience (D-RISE) partnership with Detroit’s Cass Technical High School. The program recruits youth from the city to work alongside chemistry graduate students and postdoctoral fellows on a research project during their summer break.

Wright led his staff in working through details to establish the program, and continues to work to recruit visits to campus, arrange housing, and coordinate research projects for each participant. Of the eight students who participated in the first two years, seven applied to U-M and five are currently attending the University. Wright also coordinates the Michigan Chemistry Opportunities for Research and Education program and initiates and conducts diversity outreach and recruiting efforts for the department.

Department chair Robert Kennedy credits Wright with helping to increase the diversity of the department’s graduate program. “Cornelius’s leadership and personal example in diversity initiatives has led the student services staff in chemistry in fostering a positive and inclusive climate where all students have the opportunity to succeed,” says Kennedy.