Student-success scholar Terrell Strayhorn, author Andrew Maraniss highlight TBR Diversity Conference at MTSU

Acclaimed student-success scholar Terrell Strayhorn and best-selling author Andrew Maraniss will highlight the Tennessee Board of Regents 6th Biennial Diversity Conference Wednesday and Thursday at Middle Tennessee State University.

The conference brings together nearly 200 administrators, faculty and staff working in student affairs, academic affairs and diversity offices for two days of professional development aimed at student success, particularly among students underrepresented on campuses such as minorities, veterans and other adults, the economically disadvantaged and individuals with disabilities.

This year, students are also participating in the conference, from TBR's council of student government leaders and other public and private universities.

Attendees are also invited to a Wednesday evening reception and special performance of “Incognito,” a one-person autobiographical play in which author Michael Fosberg portrays over a dozen characters while recounting his search for his biological father – a quest that reveals more than he imagined.

The conference, at MTSU's Student Union, opens at 1 p.m. Wednesday with a “Cultural Competency Institute” and continues all day Thursday with workshops, plenary and breakout sessions on various student success topics.

Maraniss, a Nashville resident, Vanderbilt University graduate and author of the best-selling book “STRONG INSIDE: Perry Wallace and the Collision of Race and Sports in the South,” opens Thursday’s sessions with a talk entitled “If We Were Really Equal: Lessons in Diversity & Inclusion.” Later that morning, Maraniss will lead a breakout session focused on student perspectives on campus climates for diversity.

Strayhorn, director of the Center for Higher Education Enterprise at The Ohio State University and a professor in the university’s College of Education and Human Ecology, will deliver the keynote and luncheon address Thursday, “What Everyone Must Know About Belonging, Diversity & College Student Success.”

The center Strayhorn leads is a research and policy center that focuses on student success in higher education. After earning his doctorate in education at Virginia Tech, Strayhorn joined the faculty at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, as an assistant professor in the College of Education, Health & Human Sciences. Promoted to associate professor and granted tenure in just three years, he worked with UT administrators to establish the UTK LEAD Summer Institute, an on-campus summer bridge program that helps students prepare and make the transition to college. He also helped enhance the first-year student experience and increase diversity numbers at UTK, before leaving for Ohio State in 2010.

Strayhorn also will lead an extended two-part workshop entitled “Community, Belonging and Inclusion for Underrepresented Students.”

TBR Chancellor David Gregory, who will welcome conference attendees Thursday morning, said the conference enables campus professionals to hear about best practices and build networks for student success throughout Tennessee’s higher education system.

“The issues that will be addressed at the conference are critical to the system’s ability to welcome, support and graduate traditionally underrepresented students and meet the goals of Gov. Bill Haslam’s Drive to 55 and the Complete College Tennessee Act,” the 2010 legislation that made college completion a top public agenda item for Tennessee, Gregory said.

Dr. Wendy Thompson, TBR vice chancellor for organizational effectiveness and strategic initiatives, heads the biennial conference and will lead a roundtable discussion Thursday morning on diversity planning tied to overall campus strategic planning.

“We’re not going to recommend that there be a diversity plan outside the scope of strategic planning because we’ve taken overall strategic planning in a direction that dovetails with our completion agenda. The diversity plans should fit right into that; it shouldn’t be something separate,” Thompson said.

The conference was planned and organized by TBR Director of Equity and Diversity Initiatives Bobbie Porter. “There’s no one clearinghouse for diversity, no place for all diversity professionals in higher education to go to get some sort of professional development. So we have this conference that offers just that: professional development specific to matters of diversity in higher education,” she said.

“We expect to have a lot of student affairs personnel there but it’s going to be pretty mixed in terms of who will attend. It’s open to students, faculty and staff and we’ll have a pretty good showing from all groups.,” Porter said.

The conference is free to all attendees and is paid for with TBR access and diversity funding.

Media are invited to cover the conference.

The complete agenda is online at:

The College System of Tennessee is the state’s largest public higher education system, with 13 community colleges, 27 colleges of applied technology and the online TN eCampus serving approximately 140,000 students. The system is governed by the Tennessee Board of Regents.