By Philip Walzer

Gov. Ralph Northam announced on Feb. 9 that Old Dominion University has received $105,000 to work on a Lumina Foundation project to increase the enrollment and graduation of underrepresented minorities.

The grant to Old Dominion is part of a $725,000 commitment by Lumina to six public four-year colleges and universities in the commonwealth, the Virginia Community College System and the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.

"We appreciate the Lumina Foundation's recognition of our strong commitment to diversity and inclusion," President John R. Broderick said, "and we are confident that this grant will help us further our progress to make the American dream achievable for more students."

The grant, he said, also aligns with ODU's mission to promote social mobility. The University has held three annual Social Mobility Symposiums and established the Center for Social Mobility.

The Lumina Foundation, based in Indianapolis, is committed to expanding opportunities for students in higher education.

"This new funding will help Virginia further align our equity agenda with the promising efforts underway at six of our public institutions of higher education," Northam said. "The disruptive impacts of the pandemic on our education system have exposed an urgent need to address achievement gaps that have long persisted in historically underserved communities. We are grateful for our partnership with Lumina and remain steadfast in our ongoing work to build a more inclusive commonwealth where every student has equitable access to quality, affordable postsecondary opportunities."

Old Dominion enrolls nearly 7,000 African American students - more than any other public four-year university in Virginia. Education Trust listed the University among the 15 best schools in the country in terms of African American success. Diverse Issues in Higher Education ranked Old Dominion 14th in the nation in the number of African American students who graduate each year.

But "we can't assume that because we're doing better than others that we're doing the best we can," said Brian Payne, vice provost for academic affairs. "We are especially grateful to Lumina to be able to take this opportunity to look at what we are doing and design our institution in the most effective way."

As part of the grant, Old Dominion has created 11 "design thinking" teams, six made up of students and five of faculty members. Each is focusing on a specific issue or barrier with the goal of increasing the enrollment and retention of underrepresented students.

It's crucial to get students' perspectives, said Karen Sanzo, a professor of educational foundations and leadership, who is overseeing the teams. "If you don't do that, you could be addressing the wrong issue. It is important to understand their experiences, hopes, wishes and dreams."

Danette Howard, Lumina's senior vice president and chief policy officer, said: "By supporting increased attainment for Virginia's African American and Hispanic populations and maintaining an ongoing commitment to equity in Virginia's higher education community, we expect significant improvements for students of color across the commonwealth and models of effective equity-minded practices that can be shared nationwide."

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