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UM Diversity, Community Engagement Division Welcomes New Leaders

Shawnboda Mead

For Shawnboda Mead, her passion for working on diversity, inclusion and cross-cultural engagement efforts in higher education began during her undergraduate college experience and continued during her graduate school years.

In the case of Cade Smith, his dedication for driving social change and inspiring independent, self-sufficient and successful students is a product of time and place as a public school student in 1970s and 1980s Mississippi.

The two will further explore those passions and dedications as new hires in the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement at the University of Mississippi. Mead is the new assistant vice chancellor for diversity within the division, and Smith is the division’s new assistant vice chancellor for community engagement.

“The mission of the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement is to lead UM’s efforts to create a diverse, equitable and inclusive educational environment for all members of the community and to advance community-engaged scholarship, learning and service across the institution,” said Katrina Caldwell, the university’s vice chancellor for diversity and community engagement.

“The role of the assistant vice chancellors is to assist in developing the infrastructure, vision and strategic frameworks for the campus-wide integration of diversity and community engagement initiatives.

Both Mead and Smith bring experience in creating building programs that positively affect the community, Caldwell said.

“They will help us expand our capacity to have a significant positive impact in the lives of our students, staff, faculty, alumni and community partners,” she said

Mead started her new job Sept. 10 but joined UM in July 2014 as the inaugural director of the Center for Inclusion and Cross-Cultural Engagement.

While there, she oversaw the rebranding of the Bias Incident Response Team and development of an online reporting mechanism; expanded the Mississippi Outreach to Scholastic Talent, or MOST, Conference, while developing the MOST Mentoring Program and Reunion; and created a variety of diversity and inclusion events, facilitated cultural competency workshops and presentations, and developed student leadership opportunities among other endeavors.

“It’s a little bittersweet that I leave that role, but I saw this as an opportunity to further expand the work that I am able to do,” Mead said. “I will still continue to support the student efforts and initiatives and continue to supervise the center in that work but also will be looking at (diversity and inclusion) from a broader perspective, including faculty and staff engagement.”

A native of Prentiss, Mead earned her bachelor’s degree in educational psychology from Mississippi State University and her master’s in student affairs in higher education from Western Kentucky University. She is working on a doctorate in higher education administration at UM.

Previously, Mead served as associate director of diversity and multicultural education at the University of Tennessee. She’s also worked as an assistant director in Residence Education and First-Year Experience at the University of Southern Mississippi and as a student development specialist at Texas A&M University.

Her line of work is not always easy and comes with challenges, Mead said, but “for me, it is those ‘aha’ moments for individuals who may not have previously found value in an aspect of identity, but eventually commit to simple acts that will create a more inclusive campus environment.”

“We don’t have to all agree, but there should be a level of respect and treating people with dignity,” she said. “Certainly there are still issues with diversity, equity and inclusion on our campus, so we have not arrived, but we are at a place where we have allocated additional resources, and the university has shown there’s a dedicated commitment to this work.”

Mead is married to Neal Mead, Ole Miss assistant athletics director for event management. The couple has two children.

Smith is a Grenada native who joined the UM administration Sept. 4. He came to the university from MSU, where he was assistant dean of students and director of student leadership and community engagement.

He also served as chair of the MSU Community Engagement Committee, director of the Center for Community-Engaged Learning, director of leadership programs, director of Maroon Volunteer Center Programs and co-creator and director of the Mississippi Racial Equity Community of Practice.

“This (new) position is just really a natural, based on the things that I have done and also the things that I care about,” he said. “If you look at the role of higher education, it is not only in educating a citizenry and discovering new knowledge but, to me, one of the most important things is what are the graduates, the affiliates of this institution, capable of doing that advances the public good and also benefits humanity.”

Before joining the MSU Division of Student Affairs, Smith was a research associate in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences. Before that, he was a research specialist in the Department of Agronomy at the University of Arkansas.

He received his bachelor’s degree in biology from Rhodes College, his master’s in agronomy from Arkansas and his doctorate in plant and soil sciences from MSU.

Smith said his agricultural background has been effective in his student affairs and community engagement work, as agriculture is an applied science with a systems approach, much like educational institutions and communities are systems.

“Taking a systems approach allows me to be a more effective educator and a more effective administrator,” he said. “The curiosity of asking why is a fundamental basis of being a scientist. What am I seeing, why is it happening and what can I do about it?

“Student access, student development and student success have always been central in my role as a scientist.”

Smith was attracted to the new position because of the emphasis that UM is “placing on advancing community-engaged research, learning and service, both from a scholarly perspective and also from a student-engagement perspective.”

“Broadening people’s perspectives is a huge goal of mine, and it is really fundamental in creating a culture that appropriately contextualizes community engagement and then begins to track and assess community engagement and the impact that this institution has on our state, our nation and the globe,” he said.

Smith is married to Becky Smith, director of the MSU Extension Center for Economic Education and Financial Literacy. The couple has five children.

By Shea Stewart

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