Riverland president receives award for his commitment to diversity

Published 9:28 pm Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Riverland Community College President Adenuga “Dr. Nuga” Atewologun recently received the inaugural Distinguished Diversity Leadership Award. He was presented the award at the Minnesota state academic and student affairs conference at Breezy Point in October.

This is a new award category this year, intended to honor individuals with a demonstrated commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion of underrepresented groups. The recipients are intended to be leaders who embrace inclusive excellence as a model for institutional transformation and educational equity. They should exhibit an unwavering commitment to equity, inclusion and incorporating these values and principles into their day-to-day work.

According to the award presentation, Atewologun co-led the development of Riverland’s Equity and Inclusion Plan and serves as co-chairmen of the Equity and Inclusion Committee at Riverland Community College. Under Atewologun’s leadership, Riverland’s Equity and Inclusion Plan involved all college stakeholders, including students and community members. Upon submission, Riverland’s plan was distinguished by Minnesota as one of four exemplary plans statewide. As a result, Riverland was asked to present to the board of trustees in June 2016 on the plan, and also to present at the academic and student affairs leadership conference last fall.

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Atewologun’s leadership and commitment to making Riverland a welcoming, safe campus is evident throughout all aspects of the college, according to a press release. Students are attracted to the positive environment at Riverland, and Atewologun models the behavior that makes Riverland a great place to learn and work. Atewologun is developing strong leaders at Riverland Community College to carry forward the messages of equity and inclusion.

Atewologun encourages Riverland to be “best in class,” and so the college continues to strive for excellence and exceed expectations and goals. Atewologun actively promotes seeking outside funding to help Riverland serve students who face economic and other barriers to college access and success.

Under his direction, Riverland received a $1.2 million TRIO grant in 2015 to serve underrepresented students; $400,000 in funds from the Otto Bremer Foundation in 2015 to 2017 to serve low-income students; $190,000 for the Equity in Employment and Job Connection grant from the Minnesota Office of Higher Education in 2016 to 2019 to support students of color; and in May 2017 supported and helped lead an initiative that resulted in $693,000 in funding from the Office of Higher Education to serve low-income student parents at nine colleges and universities throughout Minnesota for fiscal year 2018.

Atewologun is leading Riverland into becoming a global presence. Last year Riverland hosted faculty from China in a cultural and academic exchange. This year, Atewologun and several faculty members will travel to China to further develop an academic program based on one year of English as a second language, plus an associate’s degree in business and a transfer to one of the college’s four-year university partners for the Bachelor of Science degree in business. This 1 + 2 + 2 is an innovative approach to creating access for Chinese students who need ESL prior to enrolling in their degree path. Atewologun is also actively working with a delegation from Mexico who visited Riverland in summer 2016. That visit has resulted in Riverland developing a student exchange for students in the college’s agriculture majors.

“Dr. Atewologun has inspired Riverland faculty, staff, and students plus the greater communities in which our campuses are located, to dream big,”  said Danielle Heiny, chief diversity officer and institutional effectiveness at Riverland Community College. “He is challenging all of us to make Riverland ‘best in class’ and to embrace the concept that diversity creates better decisions, a better learning environment and a better world. He understands the value proposition of equity and inclusion and he leads the college from this viewpoint.”

In addition to creating a vision and mission statement through the college’s strategic planning process, Atewologun also inspired the college to develop a “heart statement” to complement the vision and mission. The heart of the college states, “Riverland Community College is dedicated to our students, our mission and our communities.”

“I have seen Dr. Atewologun demonstrate his respect for equity and inclusion across multiple aspects of diversity,” Heiny said.

“He is as attentive and responsive to young students as he is to respected elders in the community. He values a wide variety of opinions, and actively seeks out the devil’s advocate to help challenge group think and to spur the administration on to excellent decisions. He has supported the Riverland LGBT community, and has a deep respect for individual’s religious heritage and traditions,” she said.

“He is as comfortable speaking to dignitaries from the Mexican government as he is in speaking to an employee’s young grandchild. I have personally heard him use examples of the importance of having female educators and leaders within the college community. I have seen how he affirms and supports students who are struggling to find their identity,” Heiney said. “He has championed restructuring aspects of the work at Riverland to help us better serve our students and our communities, and he affirms and values the strengths and unique attributes that his leadership team and faculty bring to the decision making process. He makes every person feel valued and welcomed, and he is truly an amazing leader. Riverland is so fortunate to have him as our president.”

“It is very apparent that his vision for the college is support and opportunity for diversity and inclusion,” Riverland Community College’s International Student Advisor Melodee Morem said.  “What stands out the most for me is his genuine interest in our international students. His ease and welcoming nature is apparent. Each semester he opens his office, sits down and talks with each student individually, he wants to know their story and relates to each student and their unique experience. He strives to break down walls and barriers and he is a broad thinker. His bodacious ideas, his push to recruit faculty and staff of diverse backgrounds, and his support of international partnerships such as the new China partnership and the Mexican exchange program with our agricultural program to name a few.”

“Dr. Nuga strongly supports a summer academy which helps first generation students with getting into college and also a program giving scholarships to those in need,” Miguel Garate, Riverland’s multicultural adviser, said. “He also takes time to meet with members of the community to find out more about how the college can be involved. He has met with the president of our largest employer, Hormel Foods, and also with the diversity director to hear more about what they are doing to help with the concerns of the refugees and immigrants who work at Hormel. He has a very good relationship with the Mexican Consul of St. Paul, Gerardo Guerrero, and they talk about issues and how can we help our Mexican students. He has also helped Riverland attract scholarship funding from the Mexican government.

“The first thing that comes to mind when thinking of Dr. Nuga’s leadership qualities is the celebration ceremony Santino Deng held recently for the African immigrants who graduated from Austin High School, of which Dr. Nuga was the keynote speaker,” Bonnie Rietz, the former mayor of Austin and Co-Chairwoman of The Hormel Foundation said. “Santino told me how pleased he was that Dr. Nuga was speaking, because he is a great role model to the African and African-American students. Dr. Nuga’s story is powerful and he took the time to graciously welcome the Consul from the Mexican Consulate, who was also in attendance that day, and then he told his story to a group of students, staff and community people about his personal journey and how getting an education made such a difference in his life.”

“He also listens and interacts well on a one-to one basis. I was sitting with the student who was receiving the Riverland scholarship, a young woman who grew up in Nigeria. Dr. Nuga took the time to stop and talk to her. He listened to her story, and you could tell that the president of Riverland taking the time to talk to her made a difference in her life,” Rietz said. “Dr. Nuga represents the college well and he works with the chamber, Hormel Foods, The University of Minnesota Hormel Institute, Hormel Foundation and others to accomplish different projects. We are very blessed to have him as president of our college.”