Occidental College Receives $2 Million Diversity Grant from the James Irvine Foundation
A new three-year, $2 million grant from The James Irvine Foundation – its largest-ever to a liberal arts college – will fund several new programs at Occidental College aimed at moving its ambitious effort to combine diversity and academic excellence to a new level of success.
Over the past several years, Occidental has made an unprecedented commitment to ensuring that its student body, faculty and curriculum reflect California’s diversity,” said Robert M. Shireman, the foundation’s Program Director for Higher Education. “We wanted to recognize and reinforce that commitment.”
Although Occidental has been ranked as the country’s most diverse liberal arts college for the past four years, numbers alone are only a first step, said Occidental President Theodore R. Mitchell.
“Diversity must be seen not as an end in itself, but as a means to an end. Our goal is to maintain a liberal arts education of the highest quality that prepares students to lead in today’s multicultural and global environment and challenges them to meet the highest standards,” Mitchell said.
“We are honored that The James Irvine Foundation has recognized Occidental’s pioneering role in providing an education that seeks common understanding across cultural barriers, and grateful that it has provided us with critical resources needed to continue to press onward toward new levels of excellence,” he said.
The creation of a stronger sense of community and raising student achievement and retention levels are among the broad goals that link the four new strategies the grant will support. They are:
§ Expansion of Occidental’s existing study abroad program to improve students’ exposure to, and involvement with, diverse perspectives. Currently, student participation in overseas programs lags behind that at comparable institutions, and most students continue to study in Western Europe. By adding 14 new overseas study scholarships and through other measures, Occidental hopes to increase student participation, encourage more students to take advantage of opportunities outside Western Europe, and to ensure access for first-generation and underrepresented students.
§ Creation of a new Intercultural Community Center (ICC) that will be charged with promoting intergroup activity and fostering a greater sense of campus community. The grant will fund the hiring of an ICC director who will oversee the creation of new cross-cultural activities, a new student-to-student mentoring program, and greater involvement of student groups in the admission and recruiting process, and in off-campus service learning opportunities, among other initiatives.
§ Redesign of Occidental’s Core Program, the mandatory interdisciplinary program that develops students’ reading, writing, speaking and critical thinking abilities while exploring a wide range of disciplines and cultures. Placing at its center the idea of community, the faculty-led redesign will explore how the College can better integrate global perspectives and service learning in the Core Program and bring with it a new level of engagement and meaning.
§ Creation of a new postdoctoral teaching and research program to improve the College’s ability to recruit talented young scholars in a variety of disciplines and to enhance the diversity of Occidental’s faculty. This program will bring five postdoctoral scholars to the College, each for a two-year stint, and give them the opportunity to develop their teaching ability (with the help of a faculty mentor) and pursue their research with the help of a research stipend.
“Each of these initiatives seeks to improve the education our students receive, raise their level of performance, and build a stronger sense of campus community in the finest tradition of ‘e pluribus unum,’” Mitchell said.
Occidental also recently received a $400,000 grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to fund a systematic assessment of the College’s more than decade-long experience with diversity and of the new initiatives funded by the Irvine grant.
Of Occidental’s 1,726 students, 17.3 percent are Asian American, 13.8 percent are Latino, 6.2 percent are African-American and 1 percent is Native American. Last year, Occidental students were awarded a Truman Fellowship, two Goldwater Fellowships, Watson and Carnegie Fellowships, a Beinecke Scholarship, and a National Security Education Undergraduate Scholarship for study abroad.
Occidental’s student body reflects the growing diversity of the nation. According to a new study released earlier this year by the Educational Testing Service, minority students will account for 80 percent of the increase in college enrollments nationwide over the next 15 years.
The new grant is part of $5 million in new grants announced by the Irvine Foundation as part of its 13-year-old Campus Diversity Initiative, aimed at improving the ability of California’s independent colleges and universities to serve the state’s increasingly diverse population.
Founded in 1937 by California pioneer James Irvine, the San Francisco-based foundation is California’s largest private funder of higher education improvement. With assets of $1.6 billion, it makes grants of approximately $75 million annually.