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When Diversity and Inclusion intersect all aspects of life
by Madalynn Owens
Many in the College of Education and Human Development know Theresa Solis Metz as the Director of Recruitment, Diversity, and Inclusion. However, her involvement with the College of Education and Human Development expands far beyond this role, into that of a student as well. Her journey of having and promoting difficult conversations to help individuals engage and promote different perspectives exemplifies how diversity and inclusion are experienced and advocated for in one’s life.
Metz has been an advocate for expanding inclusivity in education since receiving her undergraduate degree from Gonzaga University with the intent of pursuing a career in alternative education. Working with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps and living in an intentional community in St. Louis brought her to the Midwest for the first time. Through this program, which she describes as being organized similar to a domestic Peace Corps, Metz taught at Vincent Gray Academy, an alternative high school in East St. Louis, IL. .
“That time was one of the most transformative times of both personal and professional life, because of the individuals I got to encounter and experience,” Metz said.
Metz returned to the Midwest a few years later to continue her education with a master’s program at the University of Chicago in their School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice.
“Specifically I wanted to continue supporting both teachers and students, so that classroom instruction and learning can actually happen more effectively,” Metz said.
After earning her degree in social work, Metz worked in a variety of school settings throughout the country before coming to the University of Missouri as a full-time employee in 2016 as the Coordinator of The Bridge in the College of Education and Human Development. The Bridge is a program focused on connecting individuals while expanding social justice perspectives through activities such as service-learning, research, and discussion groups.
Metz credits her social work background and desire to engage individuals through challenging conversations for the fit between her, the program, and its future in the school.
“Slowly, over time, it wasn’t just The Bridge,” Metz said. “It was trying to evolve beyond that physical space of The Bridge in terms of these endeavors of inclusion, diversity, and equity.”
In addition to working full-time, Metz is a doctoral student in the Education Leadership and Policy Analysis Ph.D. program.“Coming to graduate school now at 45, and I have no problem saying my age, was not something I anticipated pursuing,” Metz said. “The idea of doing a doctoral program was kind of intimidating.”
While Metz is thoroughly engaged in her program, having two children in high school and a full-time position takes a lot of time and effort, on top of her studies.
“I slowed down this year, and I’m still figuring out how to accept that it’s nobody else’s timeline when you get to this point,” Metz said. “When it’s a doctoral program there’s no timeline other than the one individuals want to set for themselves, and I’m often reminded of that by my advisor and others around me.”
“What I’m most interested in is how we work cross culturally to be effective and support our pre-K-12 student population to be successful and impact their own academic achievement,” Metz said.
This is even more important when the people who are pursuing degrees in education do not always reflect the demographics of the student population. The way many institutions verbalize this is cultural competence, however Metz wants to go even further.
“I want to focus on how we go beyond culturally competent and truly help bring about equity to our society,” Metz said.
Metz learns from multiple mentors she has found throughout the Graduate School and her workplace. She states that mentors aren’t limited to an age difference but the experiences people are bringing in, even if they’re different than your own.
“I found a more formal mentor in my advisor Dr. Sarah Diem, who is phenomenal and very patient,” Metz said. “I also find mentors in folks like Dr. Raquel Arouca, the Director of Recruitment, Retention and Diversity Initiative for the Graduate School or Dr. Lisa Dorner in educational leadership, who also went through a doctoral program sometime after completing undergrad.”
Metz also mentions her peers that are full-time staff members also pursuing degrees that provide advice and leadership.
“There’s a lot of those folks who have figured out, or maybe not quite figured it out yet, but have strategies around balancing all the parts of being a student and staff member,” Metz said.
Finding a balance between work, family, school and personal time is challenging but it’s something that Metz is determined to get done. Her dedication for pursuing and advocating diversity and inclusion is inspiring for many of her peers and colleagues throughout the Graduate School and College of Education and Human Development.