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Column: Promoting greater diversity in community important goal

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As I have had the opportunity to meet and talk with a variety of community leaders throughout the region over the past few years, all have expressed an interest in exploring new ways to achieve and promote greater diversity in their cities and towns as a means of economic development and maintaining competitiveness.

Sustaining local, state and national prosperity into the 21st century requires that we more effectively utilize the talents and abilities of our citizens.

Large and small businesses of all types will increasingly find themselves in a position that requires they be inclusive of individuals from diverse cultures and backgrounds. In order to be successful, they also must be mindful of the cultural differences that make our friends and neighbors unique.

The business people, civic officials and others with whom I often speak represent a variety of different organizations that have and, no doubt, will continue to do important work to increase awareness about issues of diversity.

They also are committed to developing solutions to challenging realities that are in need of action if our region is to continue to grow and attract new talent from around the world.

Universities and other institutions of higher learning have long appreciated and understood that cultivating a diverse campus community is key to improved learning outcomes. We understand there is much to learn from those whose experiences, beliefs and perspectives are different from our own.

In today’s world, a thriving place of learning needs a rich tapestry of students and faculty from around the world to ensure its graduates have the best possible educational experience and are prepared for global challenges.

Living, learning and working with diverse people challenges us in various ways — it alters our preconceptions, helps us expand our critical thinking and teaches us to effectively communicate and cooperate with people who have backgrounds different from our own.

At IUPUC, we believe it is an essential component to helping students to adapt to a complex, ever-evolving and pluralistic society.

It is also IUPUC’s goal to collaborate with other educational partners in order to foster mutual respect and help build communities whose members are judged by their contributions to society, the quality of their characters and the opportunities they provide for all citizens.

The future of our region requires that educational institutions, K-12 schools, municipal officials,

civic leaders, business executives, parents and many others work together in a strategic way to create healthy, diverse learning environments that will flourish and make a positive impact on our communities.

Although our region currently has more women than men who are actively pursuing higher educational opportunities, for example, women are grossly underrepresented in academic programs that focus on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines.

Careers in these fields traditionally have been filled by men, but our region and our world must have more women who are interested in and academically prepared to pursue careers in STEM fields that will lead to new innovations, technologies and scientific breakthroughs.

A growing body of research indicates that educational institutions that focus on building supportive relationships, welcoming environments, collaborative learning opportunities, teamwork and civic engagement is conducive to academic success, especially for underrepresented populations like women and minorities.

At IUPUC, we will continue to work toward creating this type of environment with the help of our friends and partners.

Marwan Wafa is vice chancellor and dean at Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus (IUPUC). Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.

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