Diversity Award winners announced

Accepting 2015 Diversity Awards from the MSU President's Commission on the Status of Minorities are, from left, Joe Silvera (front), Daniel Mooney, Wade Sims, and Amanda Byrd, for the campus' ACCESS program; staff member B.J. LeJeune; faculty member Brenda Kirkland; and doctoral student Sushil Raj Poudel. PHOTO: Keats Haupt | Public Affairs

For their significant commitments to enhancing diversity at Mississippi State, the university's President's Commission on the Status of Minorities is recognizing three individuals and a campus organization.

"This year's winners have stepped outside of their norm and exhibited a great passion for exploring and promoting diversity," said Ra'Sheda Forbes, PCSM's interim chair and associate director of the campus' Richard Holmes Cultural Diversity Center.

The 2015 honorees include:

-- Brenda L. Kirkland, faculty award. An associate professor of geology who came to the geosciences department in 2001, she has led several innovative classes, including courses in introductory geology and intensive microscopy research designed to introduce minority students to geoscience. A member of the Association for Women Geoscientists, she also has served as a volunteer presenter of earth science career opportunities at Armstrong Middle School and a science cadre member at Ward Stewart Elementary School, both in Starkville.

-- B.J. LeJeune, staff award. As training supervisor at MSU's National Research and Training Center on Blindness and Low Vision, she helps prepare service providers to more effectively serve the blind, visually impaired and deaf-blind. As chair of the College of Education's Diversity Committee, she led efforts to obtain accessible restrooms in Allen Hall. Through her church, she has ministered both to international students and incarcerated individuals in the Starkville community, and participated in food distribution programs.

-- Sushil Raj Poudel, student award. A native of Nepal who came to campus in 2011, the doctoral student in industrial and systems engineering also works as a graduate assistant at the Holmes Center. In demonstrating how he has come to consider both campus and Starkville as a new home, Poudel is active in the Engineering Student Council, International Student Advisory Board and Nepalese Students' Association. He also volunteers with the annual International Fiesta, among other activities.

-- ACCESS Program, team award. Since its inception during the 2010-11 school year, ACCESS has worked to empower students with intellectual disabilities to live independently and experience college life to the fullest. A transitional post-secondary education program, it includes the auditing of university courses, living in on-campus residence halls, and learning to independently navigate campus and utilize community transit systems. Participants also join student organizations and intern with various campus departments and community businesses, among other activities.

The Friday [March 27] award ceremony at the Shackouls Honors College also featured an address by professor Stephen Middleton, director of MSU's African American Studies program.

Because MSU and other institutions of higher learning serve as a "training ground for prospective employees," Middleton reminded students in the audience that they must "be willing to work with people from different backgrounds, different religions, different so-called races, and different classes.

"What better place to develop this ability than the university?" he asked.

The veteran educator said he constantly encourages students to "cross those lines" because "it's healthy to get to know different people from different cultures.

"Talk with different people, have social connections with different people, learn to respect and honor different people's abilities and what they bring to the table," he said.

While "dealing with diversity can be a group effort," Middleton emphasized that "the work is an individual work" that "is not just intellectual, it's internal."

For more on the awards program, contact Forbes at 662-325-2033 or rboddie-forbes@saffairs.msstate.edu; about the President's Commission on the Status of Minorities, www.committees.msstate.edu/pcsm.

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Sasha Steinberg | Public Affairs

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