Catalyst Magazine

DEI Leadership: Graduate School Launches Innovative MS Program

Paula Newton, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and John McKee, MA, acting associate vice president of philanthropy at UMB, are students in the MS in DEI Leadership program.
Paula Newton, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and John McKee, MA, acting associate vice president of philanthropy at UMB, are students in the MS in DEI Leadership program.

Employment Discrimination Law and Policy. Intercultural and Cross-Cultural Communication. Historical Exploration of Race in the U.S.

These are just some of the 11 courses being offered in the University of Maryland Graduate School’s new Master of Science in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Leadership, launched in fall 2022.

This innovative program — the first of its kind in Maryland and one of about 10 programs in the country — provides students with the skills to lead the charge toward a more equitable and inclusive future by developing strategies to address issues related to diversity in their workplaces and organizations.

Courtney J. Jones Carney, DPA, MBA, executive director, Intercultural Leadership and Engagement, and director, Intercultural Center, at the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) saw a need for an MS in DEI Leadership (DEIL) and developed the degree program for the Graduate School, which already offered an Intercultural Leadership Post-Baccalaureate Certificate.

“When developing this program, I started by diving in to research about best practices, attrition, the impact of DEI practitioners, what DEI practitioners say they need, and much more,” said Jones Carney, who also is director of the MS in DEIL program. “Many scholars note that DEI practitioners come to the work from a variety of paths and educational backgrounds, and in some cases, we have even seen people hired in DEI roles because of interest and their social identity and not necessarily their knowledge, which can do a great disservice in professionalizing the role. Our goal is to prepare our students with the tools and skills necessary to make a real impact in their DEI roles.”

Creating a More Diverse, Inclusive Environment

The program, part of UMB’s commitment to creating a more diverse and inclusive environment, gives students a comprehensive understanding of how best to promote DEI within their organizations. Students learn how to create policies that foster an environment where everyone feels respected and valued. They also gain an understanding of the power dynamics within the workplace and how to address those dynamics through effective leadership.

Students develop a thorough understanding of data-driven decision-making methods for creating action plans for their organization’s diversity initiatives. Their coursework also tackles legal frameworks for protecting human rights, including access to education, employment opportunities, and health care services. These focuses can help graduates use their knowledge and understanding of DEI principles to advocate for change in public policy and combat systemic inequality.

The program is mostly online but includes synchronous sessions with interactive activities such as real-time discussions, small group work simulations, and role-playing exercises. There are 14 students enrolled in the first cohort. Applications, which are due July 1 for cohort II, are up 254 percent compared to this time last year.

“The coursework has been very fascinating. It’s been a whirlwind,” said Kirby Gaddy, MS in DEIL student and assistant director of annual and leadership giving in UMB’s Office of Philanthropy. “I’ve had to think beyond how DEI shows up for me as a Black woman and consider how I interact with other cultures and members of identities that I don’t identify with and possible biases that I wasn’t aware that I had.”

The program’s Intercultural Impact Institute invites students to delve into real-world intercultural learning and create a meaningful understanding of the skills acquired over the four online courses. Participants gain insight through reflective dialogue directed at developing interculturally competent members in their organizations — all leading up to the goal of making full use of what has been learned by presenting organizational assessments for review within their respective companies.

The program could make a significant impact on communities by providing students with the knowledge and skills necessary for leading projects or initiatives to promote social justice and create a more equitable society.

“In order for us to really effect change regarding DEI matters, we have to look at it from multiple perspectives,” said Patty Alvarez, PhD, adjunct professor in the MS in DEIL program and UMB’s associate vice president of student affairs. “Those perspectives are knowledge, awareness, and skills, but I also like to add action. If we have the knowledge, awareness, and skills, then we’re better equipped to engage in that action, which is what this program prepares students to do.”

As the need for DEI practitioners continues to grow and job seekers become increasingly interested in DEI roles, this program offers students the opportunity to gain the skills and knowledge to become effective and impactful.

“The program is not an end-all be-all,” Jones Carney said. “The learning must continue beyond our program. However, this program provides students with a detailed toolkit to guide them as they begin their work in DEI and a practical capstone project that they can take with them and implement in the field.”

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Brittney Brookins

Brittney Brookins is a senior media and public relations specialist in the University of Maryland, Baltimore’s Office of Communications and Public Affairs.

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