By JB Clark
University of Mississippi
When Yashwant Prakash Vyas talks about access, equity and inclusion, he uses the language of policy and systems because he knows a concerted strategic effort makes room for more students to further their education.
Vyas is director of diversity education and strategic initiatives in the University of Mississippi’s Division of Diversity and Community Engagement. Passionate about creating equitable and accessible pathways to education, he has seen education’s impact firsthand.
“I’m motivated by my own journey to center access, equity and inclusion in my work,” Vyas said. “Growing up in rural India, I had very limited opportunities.
“One thing I am most grateful for was the opportunity for a quality education, and because of it, I was able to improve my circumstances, and not just mine but that of my family.”
His strategic and interdisciplinary approach was recognized at the 2022 annual conference of the American College Personnel Association – College Student Educators International in St. Louis. He also was recognized at the 2022 annual conference of the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education in Baltimore.
Vyas also led a number of educational sessions around peer leadership programs, student retention, graduation, leadership development, intercultural competence, and inclusive and equitable organizational culture at the conferences.
His awards include:
- 2022 ACPA Outstanding Social Justice Educator, Trainer or Mentor Award
- 2022 ACPA Annuit Coeptis Award – Emerging Professional
- 2022 NASPA NOW Professional Award for Innovation
When asked about himself, Vyas almost always starts by saying he’s a proud second-generation educator who grew up watching his mother and aunt dedicate their careers to educating children in their rural Indian communities.
At the center of most of Vyas’ initiatives and teachings is a spirit of making evidence-informed best practices a part of daily practice. He is interested in putting knowledge and strategy into practice on campus to foster a climate of equity and inclusion.
“There are several TED Talks and inspirational speeches about how educational attainment leads to better life outcomes,” Vyas said. “We know that. Thus, we need to focus on making education more accessible.
“Given the history of exclusion and inequities around higher education, getting people here is important, and it’s equally important to ensure they have equitable opportunities. Coming here is different from leaving here with a credential.”
Valeria Ross, program manager for diversity, equity and inclusion in the College of Liberal Arts, described his initiatives and training sessions as amazing.
“His trainings are educational, but somehow he weaves into his presentations not only the information on the subject, but also information on how to use that new knowledge,” she said. “Additionally, he lives and breathes everything that he teaches others.”
Shawnboda Mead, vice chancellor for diversity and community engagement, said she is happy to see Vyas’ work receive recognition because of the impact it is already making on the university.
“In just a short time on campus, there are already several examples of his innovative ability to establish structures, programs and services to address institutional needs,” Mead said. “This is truly an outstanding accomplishment, and I look forward to seeing what lies ahead for Yashwant’s future in higher education.”