Metropolitan State University of Denver alumnus Russell Noles understands firsthand the impact of representation in the classroom.
When Noles was a student at George Washington High School in Denver, Colorado, his mother suggested he consider going into accounting. Initially unsure, he says everything changed when three Black accountants were guest speakers in one of his classes.
“They pitched us on a career in accounting, then invited us to their office for a half-day visit to see, in person, what it was all about,” said the 1981 Accounting graduate. “Seeing those successful Black men dressed in suits, spending time with them in their offices and watching them do their work as accountants made me believe I could do it, too.”
According to the “2020-2021 Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Report,” published by the MSU Denver Office of Diversity and Inclusion, students of color make up over 47% of enrolled students, outnumbering full-time faculty of color (24.22%). With his recent gift of $250,000 supporting diversity, equity and inclusion programs at the University, Noles wants to ensure all Roadrunners see themselves reflected in the person standing at the front of the classroom.
One of the fund’s goals is to grow the University’s Teaching Assistantship Program by supporting 25 additional students of color as teaching assistants each year and impacting a minimum of 2,500 students enrolled in TA-supported courses annually – a critical step in reflecting the demographics of the broader MSU Denver community.
“Seeing someone who looks like you – someone who can relate to your experience – goes a long way in diluting the stress and anxiety that comes up when students ask themselves, ‘Can I really do that?’” he said. “It’s a critical piece of representation.”
The Office of Diversity and Inclusion will also use the funds to scale and sustain the Faculty Fellows and TA programs, in addition to professional development cohorts focused on culturally responsive pedagogy and inclusive teaching.
Michael Benitez, Ph.D., vice president for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, says the funds will directly impact the University’s ability to provide students with opportunities to work and cultivate mentoring relationships with faculty, improving student retention and persistence outcomes for all students.
“TAs add tremendous value to the classroom experience – semester to semester retention rates among TAs and students in classes with TAs are noticeably higher than the general undergraduate student population,” said Benitez. “I cannot emphasize enough the value added to the faculty and student experience because of Russell’s generosity.”
Noles is hopeful that supporting these initiatives will open the door to what he sees as true inclusion by bringing together people with a variety of perspectives and backgrounds, empowering them to solve problems through discussions and healthy debate.
“The power of diversity is that it allows us to come up with the best solutions,” he said. “When we unpeel the onion of our differences to find common ground, we create a culture where everyone brings their talents to the table. Then, we can unleash the power of what is possible for our MSU Denver students.”