Prior to the Fall 2021 semester, Joann Zhang became the director for the office of Inclusion and Multicultural Engagement (IME). Zhang graduated from the University of Oregon (UO) in 2012 with her B.S. in Education, and started her professional career there at the Center for Multicultural Academic Excellence (CMAE).
Zhang felt so strongly about CMAE and the services it provided UO students that she wanted to continue fostering that connection in a professional capacity.
“CMAE served me once as a student,” Zhang said. “I had a lot of my ‘aha’ moments, a lot of my identity growth and exploration in that office.”
This focus on identity exploration and student growth is something Zhang intends to bring to Lewis & Clark through her work in the IME. As the first member of her family to go to college, she also has a passion for helping other first-generation students find a community at their institutions.
“I hope to be able to provide (a place for identity development) for students here as well,” Zhang said. “Especially our first-generation students, who may not feel like they have a sense of belonging here … I’m here to support them.”
Although she intends to bring some of what she learned at UO to her new role, Zhang understands that what may have worked at a large university might not have the same impact at a small liberal arts college.
“If there are things that I can tap into from my experience there and bring it here, great,” Zhang said. “But what works for them isn’t going to necessarily work for us, and I’m very mindful of that.”
Zhang is still trying to get her bearings after having been on campus for just over a month, but she is attempting to do most of her learning from current students. She is leaning on her student peer educators to show her the ropes, and has been inviting students she meets on campus to her office just to chat.
“For me to really do my job well I have to get to know the students,” Zhang said. “Having conversations with them and figuring out what their needs are will help me determine my goals.”
One of Zhang’s first big steps is initiating the hiring of a new program manager. While the position description has yet to be finalized, the job of the program manager will be to examine some of IME’s core programming to make sure the office is running smoothly and fulfilling their goals.
Great Expectations is one of these signature programs. This mentorship program pairs first-year students from underrepresented groups with an upperclassman mentor who checks in periodically to ensure their transition is going smoothly. Zhang believes this program is important but lacks the same structure and support for upperclassmen that it provides to first-years.
“In the future I’d like to create more structure for our continuing students,” Zhang said. “Whether it’s a mentorship program, where we connect them to community members outside of LC, I would love to do something like that.”
Another big change Zhang has made in her first month as director is revamping the Multicultural Resource Center (MRC). While the MRC houses IME’s Wokeshops and other events throughout the year, it has also become a place for students to just relax and feel comfortable on campus.
“Right now we have open doors,” Zhang said. “The space is open from about 8:30 to 5, Monday through Friday, and students can reserve the space after hours if they just email us. So if you need a place to study … or you just want to switch up your routine please come utilize the Multicultural Resource Center. It’s just a space for underrepresented students, marginalized students to come and be in a community.”