A Champion for Inclusivity

As chair of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee, Awoke Dollisso is working
to cultivate a welcoming and inclusive environment on campus.

Dollisso (’95 agricultural education and studies, ’98 MS, ’02 PhD) first became interested in working to improve diversity, equity and inclusion following a student recruitment, retention and placement presentation. Data about underrepresented student placement had not been collected, which concerned him. As a result, Dollisso, associate teaching professor in agricultural education and studies, became involved with the university and college diversity committees to learn more about diversity, equity and inclusion challenges.

As a chair of the college committee, he spearheaded an effort to set up a committee focused on diversity, equity and inclusion issues
in each of the college’s departments. He convenes the college group each month to learn about cultural competency issues and lead an
exchange of ideas.

“Amazing things are happening because of that,” Dollisso says. “Each department is doing something unique and we’re learning from each other.”

Theressa Cooper, assistant dean for diversity in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences says Dollisso’s leadership is inspiring change.

“As chair of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee, Awoke has helped to establish diversity and inclusion excellence as core values throughout our academic departments,” Cooper says.

“Awoke is a true champion for diversity, equity and inclusion, not only in CALS, but throughout the university.”

Mike Retallick (‘05 PhD agriculture and life sciences education), professor and chair of agricultural education and studies, agrees.

“Awoke has been instrumental in providing leadership in the department when it comes to equity, diversity and inclusion,” Retallick says. “His work extends to both the college and university levels and he has been effective in connecting our departmental work to the broader campus community.”

Dollisso’s efforts earned him the 2019 College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Faculty Award for Diversity Enhancement. In the leadership class Dollisso teaches, he assigns diversity-related online discussion topics to help students become more culturally rounded. Students must provide comments about each side of the issue, explaining why they can or cannot relate to it.

“I’ve found it to be a very rich learning experience,” Dollisso says. “Students are more open, engaging and willing to tackle tough topics and learn from other perspectives than I thought.”

Dollisso also strives to make sure term faculty at Iowa State are given fair and equitable opportunities for advancement. Previously, there was no clearly defined advancement pathway in place for term faculty. He is co-chairing a Faculty Senate working group to review the existing term faculty advancement process.

The group will propose a more standardized process to be used university-wide with options for adjustments at the unit level.