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Observations on diversity at MIT: A discussion with the new director of OME

DiOnetta Jones in her office
DiOnetta Jones in her office

In mid-August, DiOnetta Jones joined MIT as the Associate Dean and Director of the Office of Minority Education (OME). Through programs and initiatives, such as Interphase and Laureates and Leaders, DiOnetta and her staff foster academic excellence and leadership development in students from underrepresented or underserved groups.
In DiOnetta's transition to MIT from Cornell, where she was the Director of Diversity Programs in Engineering, she was asked to share her observations about diversity at MIT and her aspirations in her new role.
What has your transition time been like?
It's been a fast-paced and exciting eight weeks. I've been in individual meetings with students, faculty, and staff. I've also met with teams from various departments throughout the Institute in order to learn more about the internal operations of MIT. I am hopeful that through these meetings, I will also begin to establish great working relationships and explore opportunities for collaboration.
Cornell is a much larger institution, but MIT is definitely equally complex in its organizational structure ... the acronyms and building numbers alone could keep you busy for weeks. Overall, the people have been great, and I am looking forward to a wonderful career at MIT.
During your two months, what observations have you made about diversity at MIT and the work that needs to be done?
MIT is extremely diverse; however, what's most impressive is the diversity of the undergraduate student population. Our peers truly marvel at our success in attracting so many of the most talented underrepresented students in the nation (and in the world, for that matter). Therefore, it is critically important that I truly understand MIT culture. The OME (and the Institute) really needs to know and understand what changes/enhancements might further support the success of all students. We need to know what we are doing (or not doing) to positively impact each student's ability to realize his or her full potential.
I think most people would agree that there is more work to be done in terms of graduate student and faculty/staff diversity. And although my focus will be on the undergraduate experience, the diversity, or the lack thereof, in these areas also impacts the work that I do. Students need to see diversity at all levels of the Institute, particularly in the classroom. I know this is a priority for MIT, so I am look forwarding to supporting these efforts in my new capacity as well.

I think I would be remiss if I didn't mention the diversity of intellectual capital available at MIT. The diversity of thought generated here has and will continue to change the world. Add to that the diversity of opportunities available (for students in particular) through campus-based and global study and research, and you can see why the MIT experience is one of the richest educational experiences that any institution could offer. I'm very glad to be a part of this.
What is your vision relative to the future of OME?
In normal economic times, I may have been prepared to give you a more definitive response to this question. However, given the economic climate and the budget constraints facing the Institute, I am not. I'm really in an "assessment" mode at the moment. I am talking with students, assessing current OME programs, reviewing our current organizational structure, and I am looking for efficiencies and opportunities for improvement. This process will take us at least through the end of the fall semester (and in some areas, it will be ongoing).

The vision will become clearer along the way. However, the future of OME (even in tough economic times) remains bright. The work that we do is vitally important, and the students we serve are integral to the mission and the overall success of the Institute. The work must go on.
What do you see as your greatest opportunity and challenge?
The greatest opportunity: working with these amazing and talented students and the people in OME, DUE, and throughout the Institute who believe in them and support their success.
Greatest challenge: doing all of this in the middle of a budget crisis.
What are you most excited about?
I think change can be exciting in and of itself, particularly if you do it strategically. I'm already looking forward to seeing the great things that will come out of all of this. The truth is ... I am so blessed, and my faith is so strong, that I can't do anything but look forward to the future!

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