Change is only truly meaningful when it is embodied in an institution or organization holistically, with buy-in from leadership at the top. This is not only true of Higher Education (HE) institutions, but in other sectors as well.
Veronica Calderon, Chief Inclusion, Belonging and Equity Officer at DeVry University, has had a broad and successful career in the world of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI). She spoke with Co-host of The Interview Charles Sin about her calling to this work and the initiatives she is proud of.
I am Veronica Calderon, the Chief Inclusion, Belonging and Equity Officer at DeVry University. That means that I develop and implement strategies to promote DEI across the institution, and its students, communities, and colleagues.
That’s a question I love. My mom was an educator, and education has always been a passion of mine. I have been in healthcare, banking, and different sectors driving DEI. So when this opportunity came, I shared it with my mother who said ‘Life has come full circle.’ From an early age, she always instilled the value of education in us, and I truly believe it’s a great equalizer. So when I think about the work of student affairs and how underrepresented groups didn’t have the same access to education, I really wanted to make a difference and break down those barriers to allow students from different backgrounds to thrive through education.
Student engagement can be challenging. Our students tend to be older or later in their careers, not necessarily at the typical college age. They are trying to balance the pursuit of an education with other professional and personal commitments. I should know, I was one of those students — I went to school at night when I had a full-time job. As an educator, it’s paramount to figure out ways to break down barriers and meet them where they are.
One initiative we have worked on is including our DEI curriculum in our bachelor’s and master’s programs. Then, when they come out with a degree from DeVry University, they have something unique, and understand what it means to be an inclusive leader. This sets them apart.
Another initiative from our DEI Council has been creating a DEI focus student book club. We’re closing out our first year. This book club enables us to get closer to our students and have very rich conversations around DEI and its impact in student success.
On the grander scale, we have a Women in Tech Scholar Program, Next-Gen Hispanic Scholars Program, which empowers women and Latinos to pursue careers in tech. It provides them with the tools and resources to based on promoting access to education. It’s important to create pipelines through areas where there are great gaps. Today, 26% of workers in tech careers are women, 8.3% are Hispanics, and 8% are Black. There is so much work for us to do to close the gap. It’s a long-term strategy that won’t happen overnight.
We are focused on providing students with the best learning environment. This is why my title includes ‘Belonging.’ This is about truly creating safe spaces for our colleagues and learners to thrive and express themselves. DeVry prides itself on its Culture of Care for its students, colleagues and the communities we serve.
HE is probably one of my favorite fields. It combines my passion for education and my call to be a DEI leader. There are a few similarities across the board. Throughout my career, I have set clear goals and metrics around DEI outcomes. For example, we’re looking t at hiring, promotion, retention of diverse colleagues. In addition, being able to track and assess workplace climate and pay equity is also important. I have fostered leadership commitment because is imperative we have the support of the organizations’ executive leaders for commitment, resources and accountability around DEI.
Awards are rewarding, but they are not the driver of what I do. It is great to have recognition, but the proudest I have been of my work is when I see the impact I’ve made on people’s lives. For example, when I was in healthcare — I worked on dismantling healthcare disparities that can be the difference between life and death. In financial sectors, I built financial education and literacy programming for communities of color. And in education, there is also a noticeable gap that we need to fill, so closing the opportunity gap drives my work.
And on the personal side, I want to make my mother proud. We are a family of immigrants, so showing her that her sacrifices were worth it, it’s truly amazing. I found my calling when I was younger, with my sister being hearing impaired, I knew there that I needed to stand up for others who were voiceless...
Meeting students where they are by earning what drives them and what their needs are is extremely important. We must create a safe and inclusive environment where students can feel comfortable and confident sharing their experiences.