Excellence Through Diversity Distinguished Learning Series continues to grow

The Engineering School Office of Diversity and Engagement brings in nine speakers in the program’s second year


CNN analyst Ana Navarro was the fifth speaker of the Excellence Through Diversity Distinguished Learning Series. 

Richard Dizon | Cavalier Daily

In an effort to promote diversity, the Engineering’s Office of Diversity and Engagement created the Excellence Through Diversity Distinguished Learning Series last year, an event where guest speakers of various backgrounds and disciplines come to the University to share their perspectives on current issues and speak about diversity. 

In its second year, the series is bringing in a total of nine speakers. So far, the series has featured Cornel West, Ronald Sullivan, Francis Collins, Shankar Vedantam, Ana Navarro and Saul Williams. 

“We want to bring in these diverse viewpoints to make people feel that they belong in this community,” Program Director Thomas Pilnik said. “We want students and faculty to hear these perspectives in order to feel like the University includes them. This university has a colorful and complicated history, and we want to move it forward into its third century using this speaker series as a platform to do that.”

Assoc. Dean for Diversity and Engagement John Gates said that he and his committee, composed of about 12 Engineering students, faced challenges in figuring out how to market the program and ensure sustained interest. However, using the $200,000 budget for this series, Gates and associates have been able to advertise this series on social media websites such as YouTube and Facebook. They also want to create short segments of previous live streams to try and market this event to even more people.

A major difference in this year’s series is that the speeches will now be livestreamed so that even those who could not attend the event in person can still partake in it. This has expanded the event to a much larger audience than in the previous year.

At the Cornel West event at Old Cabell Hall this past September, there were an estimated 11,000 people viewing the event online in addition to those who saw it in person. Furthermore, this series has attracted not only University students and faculty, but also residents of Richmond, Washington D.C and even students from Duke University. 

The process for choosing guest speakers is coordinated mainly between Gates and Pilnik conversing with faculty, staff and students to brainstorm possible candidates to invite. From that, they narrow down the list short enough to act on it. They hope to gain feedback from more students and faculty in the future. 

The Excellence Through Diversity Distinguished Learning Series will wrap up with its last guest speaker Michael Sam, a former NFL player and LGBTQ activist, on April 12. Despite the end of the series, there are still other events to promote diversity on-Grounds in the future.

“To celebrate excellence through diversity, [Engineering Student Council] is launching a month-long campaign in mid-March of this spring: “The Future is Female: Shades of Female Excellence,” Engineering Student Council President and fourth-year Engineering student Frances Morales said. “It will emphasize female empowerment across all STEM majors to really push forward why ‘diversity of thought’ is so important. In my opinion, diversity of thought is the key to innovation through collaboration.”

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