Guest Column- South Dakota Board of Regents


Paul B. Beran, Executive Director & CEO South Dakota Board of Regents

Scientific American published a special report in 2014 on how diversity powers science and innovation. An article accompanying the report’s release observed that “being around people who are different from us makes us more creative, more diligent and harder working.”

Why does higher education care about diversity and cultural awareness? Simply put, colleges and universities exist to help students become more creative, more diligent and harder working.

Recognizing that demographics in our country are changing, universities nationwide are increasingly mirroring the rich diversity of our society coming from a breadth of religious, socioeconomic and political backgrounds.

Meeting at Dakota State University Oct. 2, the Board of Regents invited state business leaders and human resource professionals to discuss how higher education and the workforce intersect. In particular, the regents wanted to know how business and industry define terms like “diversity” and “inclusion.” Do they expect their employees to demonstrate competency in these areas? And is awareness of culture and diversity important in a state like South Dakota?

The panelists represented the South Dakota Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Daktronics, South Dakota Retailers Association, Regional Health and Raven Industries. Here are a few comments from those business leaders during our discussion:

  • Diversity is a hot topic for employers today.
  • There are many dimensions to diversity; this is more than a compliance issue for
    us. Inclusion promotes respect.
  • South Dakota is changing. That is the reality.
  • Business owners value diversity of perspective. Communication is critical.
  • We are a global company, but 80% of our employees received their bachelor’s degree in South Dakota.
  • We rely on universities to provide us employees who are curious and respectful.
    As stated by noted diversity expert and advocate Verna Myers, “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.”
  • Clearly, as businesses in South Dakota increasingly engage in a global market, employers expect our graduates to be exposed to diverse experiences and perspectives. In some cases, it is the college experience itself that makes the difference. As one employer told us, “It was the experience of being on campus with a diverse population that helped me the most, more than any class, program or event.”

Another business leader said, “People want to learn. We just say, ‘Understand the people you work with.’ So cultural training and awareness are important.”

This brings to mind a story shared by one of our university presidents.

“At our new student and parent orientation this fall, we invited a family to stop by our diversity center,” the president said. “There were several small group conversations. The mother of a Colorado student from an underrepresented group spoke to staff for a while and then listened to the group that I was in. Later she approached me saying that she had been very nervous that her son would not fit in at the university. After listening to staff and hearing about our views and initiatives around diversity and inclusion, she was convinced that her son would do perfectly well here.”

And so this important work continues.