Historical Studies’ Dr. Harris selected to Penn Center’s Aspiring Leaders

Jessica Harris, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Historical Studies within Southern Illinois University Edwardsville’s College of Arts and Sciences, has been named to the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions’ (CMIS) inaugural Aspiring Leaders Forum and Mentoring Program.

“I am so honored to have been selected,” said Harris. “The Penn Center does critical work in many areas of education, but its main goal is to connect and empower Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs). The objective of the Aspiring Leaders program is to build strong, effective and innovative leaders to propel MSIs into the future. I am excited and look forward to the opportunities to apply what I learn from this program at SIUE and beyond.”

Harris, who has been at SIUE since 2011, is one of 21 educators selected from colleges and universities from across the country to participate in the two-year program, whose end goal is to cultivate future Minority Serving Institution (MSI) college presidents. Harris is a Diversity Faculty Fellow in the Office of the Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and was named to a three-year term as Director of the SIUE Black Studies Program in July.

CMSI developed the MSI Aspiring Leaders Forum and Mentoring Program to allow prominent Minority Serving Institutions’ (MSI) leaders to engage with mid-career aspiring leaders from the education, non-profit, and business sectors in an effort to prepare the next generation of MSI presidents.

The program will kick off with a three-day forum from Nov. 17-19 at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Afterwards, each aspiring leader will be paired with a past or current president of a minority serving institution.

“I want to be a president of an HBCU someday and participating in this program will set me on that course,” said Harris, who received a bachelor’s in history from Dillard University, a private HBCU in New Orleans. She then went on to receive a master’s and PhD in history from Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.

However, right now, the history professor is focused on SIUE.

“I want to use my knowledge and experiences to contribute to making this institution all it can be. Everything that I do is to push the mission of this University forward,” added Harris. “When I consider the mission and values of SIUE, students are my central focus. Students are important. They come first for me, and I do my best to respond to their needs and concerns.

“For instance, my colleague, Dr. Bryan Jack, and I proposed the idea to bring the Sustained Dialogue program to SIUE, in response to students saying they wanted to have meaningful and often times difficult conversations about issues related to diversity and inclusion,” she said. “I will continue to work with others to develop initiatives and programs to let students know they have been heard, and for them to have new experiences in and outside of the classrooms.” Jack is an associate professor in the Department of Historical Studies. “No matter what I do, I know that I cannot do it alone. A good leader recognizes the importance of relationships,” Harris emphasized. “An important part of leadership is to be a liaison and to put people together, which is not always easy. But you have to be patient, and you have to persist.”

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