UI to promote diversity skills with certificate program


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In the middle of mostly white Iowa, UI officials are hoping to attract students with some diverse thinking.

Beginning in the spring of 2010, the university will be the first school in the Big Ten to offer a certificate program promoting cultural understanding.

Program coordinator Ed Saunders, a UI associate professor of social work, said his team recognized that students from Iowa should have some background knowledge of cultural diversity before graduating.

“In a state like Iowa, which might not have a large urban population with a lot of diversity, we need to educate our students with a set of skills that they will use in Iowa or if they leave,” he said.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Iowa is 94.2 percent white.

The UI’s program, called Critical Cultural Competency, entails 18 semester hours of coursework — half of which will come from electives in such categories as Gender and Sexuality, African American Studies, and Global and International Populations. The course load also includes an introductory class called Foundations of Critical Cultural Competency and a seminar in Cultural Competence.

“Its very innovative,” said Jefri Palermo, development coordinator for the UI School of Social Work.

Palermo said the program differs from other certificates based on diversity, such as American Indian and Native studies, because of its broad range of content.

“There are no other programs that look at all of these things integrated together,” Palermo said.

Saunders said the certificate will only create two new courses, which will be funded by tuition money set aside for Saturday and evening courses. The rest of the elective classes are already taught at the UI.

More diverse universities such as San Diego State, located in an area that has a minority population of around 40 percent, have already adopted similar cultural-competency programs.

The new certificate joins 18 others offered at the UI, ranging from Aging Studies to International Business. However, unlike most of these certificates — which are usually paired with a specific major — Saunders noted the cultural competency program would be beneficial for a majority of students.

“All can profit by having this certificate in hand when they leave the university,” he said.

Students’ future employers will see the value in the certificate as workplaces become increasingly diverse.

“It will be helpful for students to tell employers this is something additional I have to bring to my job,” he said.

UI freshman Leah Webster, a psychology and English major, said she is considering taking the certificate program because it could help her when she becomes a therapist.

“I think on some level everyone should have some knowledge of cultural competency so you can relate better to other people,” she said.

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