In a special, six-part mini-series developed by Catalyst:Ed’s postsecondary team and produced and featured on the “Just A Thought” podcast, we’ll share insights into the innovative work our postsecondary partners are leading at colleges and universities across the country to close equity gaps for minoritized students. This project was done in collaboration with the Intermediaries for Scale Equity Working Group with support from Tides and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. 

Episode 2 Summary

One of the least talked about goals of attending college is to leave having built meaningful relationships with a new group of folks that you can now call family; your new play-cousins. You spend years together figuring out your courses, your career goals, and more importantly, who you are as a person. In doing so, you get to take part in life-changing experiences that have the potential to mold you into your most authentic self, and solidify who you want to be in the world around you. Yet, in order for this to happen, your campus has to intentionally provide space for you to experiment, explore, fail, and succeed safely with the support of your peers, teachers, and administrators. We recognize that this may look differently depending on the environment you’re in, but nevertheless, we all want the vibe of having felt included, encouraged, and inspired. This is the goal, this is the vibe, this is the culture we’re all seeking. To pull from our research into institutional inequity within post-secondary institutions, “According to one group of scholars, ‘Culture is the ‘invisible glue’ that holds institutions together by providing a common foundation and a shared interpretation and understanding of events and actions.” (Eckel et al., 1999, p. 26). 

In this episode, we’ll hear directly from Stillman College junior, Hanna Fields, about what she needs from her institution in order to perceive her campus culture as equitable and inclusive, and senior administrators, Darryl Ann Lai Fang and Chanel L. Fort, on what we can be doing to instill this sense of family and protect our most vulnerable.

Listen to Episode 2

Episode 2 Guests

Hannah Fields | She/Her
Hannah Fields is a 21-year-old Junior at Stillman College. She recently became a Journalism and English major. So far in her college career, she has been a part of the English Honors Society-Sigma Tau Delta, Harte Honors, and many other academic opportunities/organizations. Outside of school, Hannah reads, writes, and spends time with her friends and family (over the phone). 

Chanel L. Fort | She/Her
Chanel L. Fort is a leader in learning management, workforce development, and change. With 21 years of experience, Fort has made a career in designing, implementing, and evaluating sustainable learning and development, workforce education, and change management programs for private, non-profit, government, and higher education entities. 

Fort serves as Director of Academic Innovation at Stillman College, a historically Black college and university (HBCU) located in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. In her learning and workforce development practice, Fort leads as Creator and Learning Strategist of Fortified Learning Solutions, designing and implementing equitable strategies for change. Fort also serves as a National Designer in Residence for Education Design Lab, where she and eleven colleagues are reimagining the role of higher education to close racial and economic opportunity gaps. 

Fort is a member of various organizations and committees and remains actively engaged in the community as Change Agent for UNCF’s Institute for Capacity Building. In 2021, the Birmingham Business Journal recognized Fort as one of its “People on the Move.” 

A native of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Fort earned a B.S. in Health Sciences and an M.S. in Human Services Administration. She is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Education from Pepperdine University, focusing on global leadership and change. 

Darryl Ann Lai Fang | She/Her
Darryl Ann is the ICB Director of Strategy Execution and is responsible for implementing strategies for the institutional transformation of Black colleges and universities. She oversees the fastest-growing service vertical of program managers assigned to institutional cohorts. Don’t mess with her. Darryl Ann is a U.S. Air Force veteran who served in Desert Shield and Desert Storm. She leverages the discipline, hard work, and attention to detail that she learned in the military to propel higher education institutions toward transformational change. Darryl Ann earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Management from the University of Phoenix, a Master of Science degree in Human Resource Management from Nova Southeastern University, and is currently pursuing a Doctorate of Ministry from the Interdenominational Theological Center, a UNCF member institution.

Episode 1 Summary

As a student, it’s not enough to have visible representation on campus. You must also feel a sense of belonging, there must be safety, and there must also be tangible support at each step of your journey.  With this in mind, Rashida and Jalen have joined our hosts as they explore the need for post-secondary institutions to be intentional in their approach to supporting historically excluded students. We dive into the importance of mentorship, the need to ensure campus resources and support services are accessible and equitably useful, and how to build rapport and trust with our most vulnerable.  What student support-based ideas do you have that center the unique experiences of marginalized students on-campus?

Listen to Episode 1

Episode 1 Guests

Jalen Alexander | He/Him
A researcher, project manager, and problem solver, Jalen Alexander conducts applied research to impact policy and empower people to own their data stories. He works to continually connect his profession, research, and service within the classroom to his passion for education and desire to reach real-world solutions to today’s big problems. Jalen has published in education, public health, and neurosurgery bringing attention to systemic inequities and analyzing new paths forward. He currently serves as a Research Analyst at MDRC, a leading policy think tank committed to finding solutions to improve the lives of low-income individuals, families, and children. Jalen makes time for gaming, all Shonda Rhimes TV shows, and being a plant dad outside of work.   

Rashida Welbeck | She/Her
A wife, mother of three, and lifelong lover of learning, Rashida Welbeck has brought these and other intersectional identities into her education policy research work over the last 14 years. With empathy as her starting point, Rashida centers racial and social equity in the research efforts she leads with the dual goal of helping postsecondary institutions better serve the needs of their marginalized students while amplifying the voices of students to be better understood by their institutions. Currently at MDRC,  Rashida leads the Equity Collaborative, a cross-organization group of researchers working to strengthen how equity is applied to research and technical assistance. Rashida also leads the Men of Color College Achievement (MoCCA) project, which is learning about the effectiveness of student support services targeting male students of color.

Series Hosts

Dr. Chukwuemeka Ikegwuonu (Emeka) He|Him
Dr. Ikegwuonu is a quantitative researcher investigating internal and external influences on higher education institutions and the implications on student behavior. Professor Emeka’s current research focuses on higher education institutions and their impact on retention and affordability. He analyzes how internal and external factors impact institutional policies. When not fulfilling his teaching or research responsibilities, he can be found enjoying the outdoors with his family.

Dr. Leila Ellis-Nelson (Leila) | She/Her
Dr. Ellis-Nelson earned her doctorate in Clinical Psychology from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology (TCSPP). She is the owner of Changing Perspectives, a JEDI consulting firm in the Chicagoland area that works explicitly to develop tool kits, strategies, podcasts, and other deliverables for organizations and institutions. This work happens through a comprehensive institutional assessment, executive coaching, data review, group dialogues, and community collaboration. 

Additionally, she is an Assistant Professional Practice Professor within the Department of Psychology at Roosevelt University. Her knowledge of the inner workings of the human condition as a psychologist and how it relates to short- and long-term goal achievement provide her with a unique lens in the development of JEDI initiatives. As a mental health professional, she has led over 1,500 hours of focus groups, group therapy sessions, outreach interventions with groups spanning the post-secondary education system, 501c3s. and other corporations. She’s also completed approximately 6,000 hours of individual therapeutic support, consultation support, and case management support. 

Being a mom, plant-mom, and donut enthusiast are roles that help her remain centered in her teaching and equity work.

Series Inspiration