After changes in leadership in the last year, the University of Minnesota’s graduate school is refocusing its goals on diversity.
Appointed in April, Yoji Shimizu is starting his first school year as the new director of the Graduate School Diversity Office.
Scott Lanyon, vice provost and dean of the graduate school, said he chose to hire Shimizu for the position after seeing his track record and hearing his ideas.
“I had the luxury of having a number of excellent choices,” Lanyon said. "In the end, I can only hire one person. [Shimizu] has, throughout his career, made important institutional changes to advance diversity.”
Lanyon and Shimizu both emphasized the importance of diversity in improving academics for graduate students.
“The primary goal of the graduate school… is to ensure that the quality of graduate education is as high as possible at the University of Minnesota,” Lanyon said. “At this point in time, it seems to me and my colleagues that the way that we can best enhance quality is actually by enhancing diversity.”
Shimizu said the office coordinates the University’s initiatives in recruitment, funding, retention and graduation of underrepresented graduate students.
“We’re here, really, to help colleges, graduate programs and graduate students, and to create the academic environment that will really allow essentially all graduate students to thrive and succeed,” Shimizu said.
Graduate student Nick Ames said working on diversity in the grad school is critical.
“Ultimately, a lot of students, especially from underrepresented backgrounds, are the ones first affected by policy,” Ames said. “A lot of the problems are systemic and affecting everyone, but the ones suffering are the underprivileged.”
Shimizu said retention of minority students can be especially challenging, even more so than recruiting the students in the first place.
“Our vision is really to provide the support and resources so that we see an increasing number of students from underrepresented groups, not only coming to the University of Minnesota for graduate work, but ultimately being successful and graduating with a Ph.D. or a master’s degree, and moving on to impactful careers,” Shimizu said.
Ames said it can be difficult for a grad student to remain in a program when they’re surrounded by people they can’t relate to.
“It's difficult to make people stay in a program,” Ames said. “If there’s someone there to talk to and to share your experience, that’s what keeps people in a program.”