Dionne Nickerson is a Ph.D. candidate in Marketing at Scheller College of Business. Her doctoral research focuses on the impact of sustainability on business outcomes. She completed her undergraduate degree in engineering at Brown University and an MBA at Providence College in Providence, Rhode Island. The South Side Chicago native describes herself as a “black woman and citizen of the world.”
Nickerson was an inaugural Georgia Tech Diversity and Inclusion Fellow. Launched in 2017, with support from Institute Diversity and the ADVANCE program, the Diversity and Inclusion Fellows Program brings together faculty, staff, and students throughout Georgia Tech who individually and collectively advance their action, research, or teaching objectives while improving inclusivity on campus.
Through her work with the Diversity and Inclusion Fellows Program, Nickerson set a goal to equip fellow doctoral peers in academia with the skills and knowledge needed to help their students succeed, especially those carrying an underrepresented status. Her projects focused on their awareness of implicit biases and creating inclusive classroom environments.
How long have you been a Diversity and Inclusion Fellow?
I was an inaugural Diversity and Inclusion Fellow in 2017. In 2018, I followed up and extended the reach of my project.
Diversity and Inclusion are core values of Georgia Tech and Scheller College of Business. How has your personal experience and background prepared you to be effective in establishing this message on campus?
As a black woman who was a low-income, first-generation college student, I experienced first-hand some of the challenges and opportunities associated with diversity and inclusion at institutions of higher learning. Research shows that there is a significant amount of residential segregation in the United States. As such, students from underrepresented minority communities may lack a certain type of cultural capital, at least at the start of undergraduate studies, which promotes social mobility within the larger university community and specifically with faculty and administrators. In addition, certain student groups (students of color, women, LGBTQIA students, students with disabilities, etc.) often face a host of limiting societal expectations as they enter the undergraduate setting. These are important challenges that I struggled with considerably during my undergraduate years. Thus, I am very sensitive to the perspectives of students who may be less visible to the wider campus community.
Provide detail of your Diversity and Inclusion Fellows project and its progress so far:
“Leveraging Diversity in the Classroom: Understanding Intercultural Communication and Implicit Bias” workshop was presented in April 2017 and explored intercultural communication and implicit bias in the classroom, facilitated by Dean Stephanie Ray of the Office of Diversity Programs. Those who completed the program received a certificate of completion, which could be added to their CVs. One-third of all Scheller Ph.D. students attended the session. The significant student participation and subsequent positive feedback I received about the workshop suggested this was an important topic to doctoral students at Scheller.
In April 2018, as a continuation of my Diversity and Inclusion Fellowship, I organized a panel on creating inclusive classrooms. The goal of the panel was to help Scheller Ph.D. students who were pursuing a career in academia to begin thinking about creating inclusive classroom environments. In addition, I wanted to start a conversation about some of the challenges and opportunities associated with being an instructor or student who is a member of an underrepresented identity (ethnic/racial/national origin, LGBTQIA, women, socioeconomic status, etc.). The panelists included Omar Rodriguez (Associate Professor of the Practice of Marketing at Emory University), Tiffany Johnson (Assistant Professor of Organizational Behavior at Scheller College), Reemon Silverman (Scheller MBA alumna), and Mahauganee Bonds (RED Project: Postdoctoral Fellow).
Why are you passionate about your Diversity and Inclusion project? How do you feel it will benefit Scheller and Georgia Tech, even after you have graduated?
Through my work with the Diversity and Inclusion Fellows Program, I wanted to help equip fellow Ph.D. students with the skills and knowledge they might need to help all students succeed, especially underrepresented students. I wanted them to be more cognizant of their potential biases. More importantly, I wanted them to help them to create classroom environments to ensure that everyone has a seat at the table. These sessions provided an opportunity to educate the educator – to pass along vital and key information to an audience that will be instructing future generations.
Why are diversity and inclusion important to you?
Focusing on diversity and inclusion represents an investment to everyone in our society. I believe we need to give everyone an opportunity to succeed. My grandparents grew up in the Jim Crow South where certain opportunities were simply illegal and thus unavailable to them. It represents a moral imperative.
In general, how do you feel about the diversity and inclusion efforts at Scheller College and across Georgia Tech? Is there anything the two need to improve upon?
As a Ph.D. student, I have had the opportunity to share my research at conferences throughout the United States and in Europe and Asia as well. One thing is clear; there is a lack of underrepresented minority faculty and Ph.D. students within most universities around the world. But, statistics also tell us that the student bodies of many of these institutions are becoming increasingly diverse. Georgia Tech, like many universities, must continue to make strides with respect to faculty and doctoral student recruitment and retention.
Do you have plans post-graduation?
I graduate from Scheller this semester (Fall 2019). Post-graduation, I will begin a role as an Assistant Professor of Marketing at Indiana University.