UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — For her commitment to advancing diversity and inclusion initiatives at the College of Information Sciences and Technology and Penn State, student advocacy specialist Olivia Lewis was recognized with the Council of College Multicultural Leadership’s Way Pavers University Staff Award during a ceremony on April 9.
“Olivia represents the staying power through many iterations of our office,” said Jason Gines, assistant dean for inclusion and diversity engagement at the College of IST. “She does so much work behind the scenes that doesn’t get recognized, especially since it’s not measured in metrics and numbers, and is many times confidential. It’s hard to measure the impact on a student’s life.”
At the College of IST, Lewis is focused on retention of underrepresented minority students. She meets regularly with students, hosts monthly scholars meetings, and helps students build networks within the college and at the University. Mostly, she works to maintain a welcome and inclusive environment and to promote diversity within IST.
“People from different backgrounds who have different life experiences can offer different perspectives that may be the key to solving big problems,” said Lewis. “Our hope is that everyone will see that they have a place in enhancing this IST community.”
Lewis’ impact extends across the University, as she assists other colleges and units with their diversity and inclusion initiatives. She sits on search committees, participates in STEM open houses, and helps to recruit students from underrepresented groups — particularly for the Graduate School.
“Olivia is always willing to step up,” said Stephanie Preston, associate dean for graduate educational equity at the Graduate School. “I don’t think there’s a committee that she has not signed up for and committed to. It’s one thing to sign up, but another to actively participate.”
Preston added, “To me, she exemplifies being a Way Paver by being a strong woman in this position at a time her office [was transitioning] leadership. She always talks about the student advocacy piece of her role, which is the salient part of her identity. She’s an advocate.”
For Lewis, advocacy comes naturally as she has personal experience as part of an underrepresented population.
“I know what it’s like to be the only or to be different,” she said. “Growing up in a biracial family, I never quite fit in with either group. I, too, have hidden identities that make me keenly aware of some of the barriers that may exist for our students, especially in terms of mental health. I can see myself in the students, and if I can help a student be his or her authentic self, then I am happy.”
The Way Pavers Awards were established in 2011 to honor those who have contributed to supporting diversity initiatives that have positively enhanced student life and the climate throughout the college and local community, while maintaining a high level of character and leadership. The awards are given annually to University administrators, faculty, staff and students by the Council of College Multicultural Leadership.