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OTC hire aims to bolster student, employee diversity

Daniel Ogunyemi is the latest education industry hire in a diversity and inclusion role, but private businesses lag

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As Ozarks Technical Community College’s first director of diversity, equity and inclusion, Daniel Ogunyemi said he’s ready to shift his career and take on the challenges of building a more diverse and welcoming campus community.

Ogunyemi started his new position Feb. 8 after working less than a year with Burrell Behavioral Health, where he served as learning, development and inclusion partner.

“There was no way I could pass up an opportunity like this for myself and my family to step into a place like OTC that has great leaders,” he said. “It became more about their goals and where they wanted to take this type of road and the vision that they have for students, employees and the community. It was golden and was speaking my language.”

OTC spokesperson Mark Miller said Ogunyemi was chosen among more than 40 candidates. The national search was conducted over a three-month period, Chancellor Hal Higdon said.

“We also wanted to be super careful because the first person you hire in this role will be the most critical hire you’ll ever have in the development of the program,” Higdon said.

Ogunyemi said his initial goal is to learn more about the inner workings of the institution, which runs six campuses across its 12-county service area. He also is starting to build relationships with his new colleagues and students at the college, which had an enrollment of 10,066 for the spring 2021 semester. The student count is down 4% from spring 2020, according to school officials, but had a 44% boost in online enrollment during that period.

“I want to just lay a solid foundation of how we can decrease those other barriers that may exist outside of college for the students that come here as well as making sure people feel like this is a place they can learn, grow and thrive,” he said.

Ogunyemi reports to Chief of Staff Amy Bacon, and he’s part of the college’s executive leadership team, Higdon said.

Beyond numbers
At OTC, Ogunyemi is slated to build on a student population that officials say already is more racially diverse than the area at large.

The OTC system has an 18% population of “non-white” students, according to school officials. Comparatively, they say U.S. Census Bureau data show 8% of residents in the service area are of a race other than white.

OTC’s student population among its 12-county service area shows more racial diversity than in Springfield. The Queen City’s population is 88.1% white, followed by 4.4% Black or African American and 4.3% Hispanic or Latino, according to the Census Bureau as of 2019.

“We’re a community college, so we want to reflect the community we serve,” Higdon said. “We’re really fortunate that we actually are more diverse than the community we’re serving.”

Higdon said there’s no specific numbers OTC is aiming to reach for diversity, which includes race, gender, sexual orientation and social backgrounds.

“If that number is 25%, or the number is 18%, we don’t want anyone to feel unwelcome or unsupported,” he said. “This is not just students. We want our employee base to be more welcoming, … more diverse.”

Diversity minded
Ogunyemi is the latest of several local diversity and inclusion leaders hired in recent years at area organizations.

Springfield Public Schools hired Yvania Garcia-Pusateri as its first chief equity and diversity officer, and Drury University named Marilyn Harris its chief human resources and diversity and inclusion officer. Both hires came in 2019, eight years after Missouri State University created its first diversity and inclusion position, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting. The city of Springfield currently is interviewing candidates for its first director of diversity and inclusion, said spokesperson Cora Scott. She said there’s no timetable on when the position will be filled.

Tyree Davis started in September at Community Partnership of the Ozarks Inc. as the nonprofit’s first community diversity and equity director. He is tasked to advance diversity and equity in the community and create infrastructure for other institutions to improve their equity and inclusion culture.

“Anything that an organization wants to do around [equity, diversity and inclusion], I can help with that,” Davis said, noting he’s been spending the first few months on the job earning a professional credential through the Institute for Diversity Certification.

Davis said his work covers small and large businesses, nonprofits and faith-based organizations. He is teaming with Krista Moncado, a program coordinator at Community Foundation of the Ozarks Inc., to develop training on an inclusive excellence model. He said the model, first brought to Springfield and implemented at MSU in 2010, promotes inclusive organizational cultures and opportunities. The CPO program is expected to roll out to nonprofits and businesses as early as this spring, he said.

“We can tailor it to each organization. Every organization won’t be ready for inclusive excellence,” Davis said. “It’s a chance for the organizations to frame what they want to do to better their own work environment around diversity and inclusion.”

Wes Pratt, chief diversity officer and an assistant to the president at MSU, said diversity is a much broader concept than people think.

“Unfortunately, it gets politicized too often,” he said. “But basically, it encompasses just about everyone.”

Pratt said he is in charge of executive-level efforts at the university to promote the value of inclusion. He works with faculty, student affairs and administration to improve the campus climate, promote learning development and broaden the school’s support for valuing diversity.

“I also work externally in the larger community because it’s critically important that our larger community is welcoming and respectful of diverse employees, students, staff and faculty who are part of the university,” he said.

That work includes the Facing Racism Institute, an annual event hosted by MSU that includes speakers, videos and opportunities for conversations about racism and its impact on individuals and the workplace. Last year’s presentation was held virtually in October amid the coronavirus pandemic.

While Springfield-based companies such as Bass Pro Shops, BKD LLP and O’Reilly Automotive Inc. (Nasdaq: ORLY), have invested in diversity and inclusion positions, Pratt said the local business community is still behind larger cities in those hires.

“In urban areas like Kansas City and St. Louis, they have recognized the value of it,” he said. “Springfield and this metropolitan statistical area is probably a bit slower than the metropolitan areas of the state and the nation. But we’re becoming more aware.”

Pratt said promoting diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace isn’t just up to the people in leadership positions.

“It starts at the top and has to permeate through the organizations and the institutions,” he said. “Everybody has to be invested and promote the value of inclusion to have a workforce where folks are valued.”

OTC’s Ogunyemi said it will take him some time to determine what diversity, equity and inclusion means for the various communities OTC serves.

“What might work in Springfield might not work in Christian County. What might work in Christian County might not work in Hollister,” he said. “It’s just figuring out what it means for the different locations and then how to affect changes systemwide.”

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