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 6 Summary

Emeka and I would like to thank you all for joining us on this journey with Catalyst:Ed as we unpacked some key areas impacting colleges/universities in the United States. There are countless barriers that negatively impact potential and current students on a systemic level. Through this work we’ve unpacked how institutions can work actively to ensure that students feel safe, seen, heard, honored, and supported throughout enrollment. On our final episode, we have the privilege of speaking with some of the dopest people uplifting academia, as they help us to understand better the role of academic advising and student support services and provide us with creative ideas on how to support students from historically excluded communities who are most impacted when services don’t meet them at the intersection of their identities and lived experiences.   

Episode 5 Guests

Melinda Anderson, Ed.D. | She/Her

Melinda J. Anderson has worked in academic and student affairs in higher education for more than 20 years. Her leadership skills and her passion and commitment to student success – especially in student transitions, persistence, and retention – have propelled her to the helm of a worldwide academic association. 

 In July 2021, Dr. Anderson was appointed Executive Director of NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising, which serves more than 15,000 members globally. As NACADA Executive Director, Anderson is responsible for directing all the Association’s initiatives, including its strategic efforts, professional development for members, programming, content creation, enhancing NACADA’s consulting services, member engagement and growth, and defining its research agenda. In addition, Anderson holds a teaching position in the Kansas State University College of Education’s Leadership in Academic Advising doctoral program.

 Dr. Anderson graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University with a bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication and a Master’s in Adult Education. She earned her doctorate in Higher Education Administration from the College of William and Mary. Originally from Northern Virginia, Anderson currently resides in Manhattan, Kansas.

Kayla Nelson| She/Her

Kayla Nelson is a Psychology major with a concentration in Child and Family studies pursuing double minors in Sociology and Women/Gender studies. As a junior at Roosevelt University, she enjoys spending time being involved in campus programs such as the McNair Scholars Program, the Mansfield Fellowship Program, SSS STEM, MCTC, and CASSAC. She hopes to further her education and one day become a therapist for children and adolescents.

Carl Hunter| He/Him

Carl Hunter is the Assistant Director of Student Equity and Inclusion at Roosevelt University. His schooling includes a B.S. The emphasis in History, a Minor in Ethnic Studies from Illinois State University and is currently enrolled in the M.A. Conflict and Mediation program here at Roosevelt. Carl is an experienced higher education administrator, leader, motivator, and mentor who is dedicated to ensuring that students reach their highest level of success. His compassion and love for people is what drive his passion for educational success. His motivation is inspired by an “Operating with Excellence” attitude and lifestyle which he pursues daily. He is excited to be a part of this awesome orientation team again and he’s grateful to see all the wonderful new students in person this year. Fun fact: I am a first-generation college student

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Episode 5 Summary

Look, finances are complicated enough on a regular day, but beloved, the minute we start factoring in scholarships, grants, loans, G.I. bills, and fees it turns into a whole different monster. In this episode we’ll hear from two financial aid experts on the different ways that financial aid policies serve as barriers to degree/program completion (especially to our most vulnerable students), and learn different tips we can use to support knowledge transparency for students, their families, and administrators. But on the real, I just need them to make these refund checks hit faster than they do because we got bills to pay homie.  

Episode 5 Guests

Nia Haydel | She/Her

Dr. Nia Woods Haydel serves as the Vice President for Alliance Engagement and Institutional Transformation at Complete College America.  She provides leadership on initiatives focusing on strengthening partnerships with alliance members, developing strategies to build on existing college completion policy initiatives, and conceptualizing CCA’s work around institutional transformation. Before her current position, she spent over 20 years on college campuses envisioning, planning, and executing strategic initiatives designed to elevate the student experience. Her diverse experiences have influenced her commitment to crafting learning environments that address students’ holistic needs, thereby increasing their propensity for success, particularly for populations who have been excluded from full participation in higher education. She earned a B.S. in Psychology from the University of New Orleans, M.S. in Higher Education Administration from Texas A & M University, and a Ph.D. in Educational Policy Studies from Georgia State University.  She resides in New Orleans, LA with her husband, Chase, and their 3 children, Issis, Chase, and Noelle.

Denise Spellman | She/Her

Mrs. Denise Spellman attended Undergraduate and Graduate studies at The University of New Orleans.  She is currently the Financial Aid Director at Dillard University since 2016, and although she has been employed there as Financial Aid Director for the past 6 years, she has worked in the Financial Aid profession for 36 years. During her tenure, she has held several titles, served as Training Chair for several years for the Louisiana Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (LASFAA), and presided over LASFAA as President in 2011.  She is passionate about her job and students’ success – her goal is to provide “Access to Success” to students and help streamline the financial aid process in this ever-changing financial aid industry.  She loves to help others, cook, decorate and create floral arrangements and centerpieces for events.  In addition to being the Financial Aid Director, Mrs. Spellman is also a Freelance Sign Language Interpreter and is currently teaching a beginning Sign Language class for the Education Talent Search Program at Dillard University. She is also a Breast Cancer Survivor celebrating 11 years of being Breast Cancer Free and thanks God daily for His Grace, Mercy, and all of the gifts, talents, skills, and abilities that He has bestowed.

Jermany Gray | He/Him

Jermany Gray is a graduating senior from the City with Soul – Jackson, MS. He attends the illustrious Dillard University where he majors in Political Science with a minor focus on Criminal Justice, Urban Studies, and Public Policy. As Jermany prepares for the next chapter of his life, he hopes to be of service to his community through politics and community advocacy.

Listen to Episode 5

Episode 4 Summary

I don’t care what anyone says, teaching is an art, beloved! Subject matter expertise in isolation is not enough to impart long-lasting knowledge to others while simultaneously fostering an atmosphere of creativity, innovation, and safety that students can use to run with that information to change their fields. We have to be storytellers, mentors, experts, and persons capable of accessing all of our humanity in order to support the growth and development of diverse minds. But, where do we learn to do these things? Do our institutions support this level of care and support? Can we actually inform the curriculum and by extension the climate of our universities? 

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Episode 4 Guests

Lizmaylin Ramos | She/Her

Lizmaylin graduated from the University of Rhode Island in 2020 with a bachelors in biology and psychology. She is currently an NIH-PREP Scholar in the Department of Neuroscience at Brown University. She will be commencing graduate school this upcoming Fall. Beyond her work in the lab, she is deeply committed to addressing barriers to educational equity and fostering a more diverse and inclusive environment in academia.

Monica Flippin Wynn | She/Her

Dr. Monica Flippin Wynn is a Senior Assistant Vice President at the John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education. Currently, she coordinates the Retention Performance Management Process and Equity in Retention Academy. She produces the Gardner Institute transformative Conversations, and she contributes to several Teaching and Learning Projects that include the High-Impact Online Teaching Practices for Historically Black Colleges and Universities. She has worked at Lindenwood University and Jackson State University (JSU) serving in several faculty and administrator capacities

Bryan Dewsbury | He/Him

Bryan Dewsbury is an Associate Professor of Biology and Associate Director of the STEM Transformation Institute at Florida International University. He is the Principal Investigator of the Science Education And Society (SEAS) program, where he and his team conduct several research projects and programming that investigate the social context of teaching and learning. He has conducted over 85 professional development workshops across North America on equity-minded education practices at institutions of higher education helping faculty transform their curricula, and administrators transform their campuses. He is a Fellow with the John N. Gardner Institute where he supports institutions undergoing curricula transformation. He sits on several other advisory boards including the Improving General Education Life Sciences network (IGELS), Racially-just Inclusive Open Science (RIOS), and HHMI Biointeractive program. He is the PI and founder of the Deep Teaching Residency (DTR), a yearlong program that helps faculty transform their practice pertaining to inclusive education.

Episode 3 Summary

Just like every other facet of our lives, colleges and universities only run as well as the policies and rules that shape how those involved are able to support one another in the most equitable and inclusive ways possible. Our institutional policies are part of the backbone of how we function, they guide decisions made from the President’s Office to what’s on the menu in the cafeteria. With this in mind, we have to be able to critically unpack whether policies are actually working in the service of all campus community members, and we should know how we can advocate for our most vulnerable if they’re driving inequitable outcomes. 

So, here’s the big question, do you know what institutional policies are being implemented on your campus, and what you can do to bring awareness to the ones that may seek to marginalize those from historically excluded communities? Stay tuned to find out what the return policy is if things don’t seem to add up.

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Episode 3 Guests

Victoria Marron, Ed.D. | She/Her

Dr. Victoria Marron’s life goal is to serve traditionally marginalized student populations and their families by removing systemic barriers and empowering their success. As Associate Vice President of Retention and Transition Services and Chief Equity Officer at Lee College, Dr. Marron strives to meet students’ basic needs and make measurable progress toward the ideal student experience.  She also works to strategically advance Lee College’s equity and anti-racism initiatives. Dr. Marron openly shares that she was raised in a single-parent home, is the product of government welfare assistance such as section 8 public housing communities, is a childhood survivor of sexual and domestic abuse, and is a first-generation teen mom college student. All of these identities serve her daily as she strives to make her community and college the best community possible for students especially those like her.

Monica Parrish Trent, Ph.D. | She/Her

Monica Parrish Trent, Ph.D., is Vice President, Network Engagement at Achieving the Dream, and has primary responsibility for executing a strong network experience for all ATD and prospective ATD Colleges.  In this capacity, Monica leads efforts to engage colleges during their life cycle of participation with ATD; deliver learning events that inspire and mobilize college leaders across their organizations to adopt innovative, evidence-based practices that facilitate equitable student success outcomes; design and deliver programs and services that support and accelerate student success; and recruit and retain colleges into the ATD Network.   

 Monica has extensive experience and a successful track record leading faculty and staff in distance and digital learning; use of open educational resources; program and course redesign; enrollment management; developmental education reform; culturally responsive pedagogy; and diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. With more than 25 years of experience at diverse, multi-campus community colleges, Monica has maintained a sharp focus on improving student success and reducing equity gaps for low-income students and students of color.   

Monica is a 2021-2022 Aspen Rising Presidents Fellow, has served as a commissioner on the American Association of Community College’s Commission on Research, Data and Accountability and is a peer reviewer for the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. 

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.

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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