Monday, September 08, 2014

My most inspirational colleague is a champion for equity

Today's prompt in the 30 day blog challenge asked us to reflect on our most inspirational colleague. 

My most inspirational colleague is a lady who walks the walk like no other I’ve seen.  She has a lens that sees the world as place where all men and women  were created equal and should have equal opportunities in our world.  Her uncanny ability to notice underlying conditions that interfere with this is amazing, as is her untiring efforts to advocate for a more equitable world. 

I met Kathy Johnson over 10 years ago when she was employed as the Director of Equity Initiatives at The Vermont Institutes. Kathy had noted my success in attracting female students in advanced computer classes and asked me to work with her on identifying strategies for increasing the number of girls enrolled in Information Technology programs in Vermont Technical Center. Kathy was a master at interviewing and helping me reflect on my teaching practice. She was able to synthesize key elements of my practice into a model that became part of future professional development in recruiting and retaining female students. 

Within a year of two of that observation, Kathy recruited me to work as a Technology and Equity Specialist for the Vermont Institutes. Kathy was more than a colleague; she was an incredible mentor. One of the first things she did was help me create a personal learning network of other professionals who were passionate about gender equity. She introduced me to both resources and people laid the foundation for me to continually grow in expertise in this area. Kathy had a gift for creating sustainable systems that would ripple in their reach and impact. Kathy didn't just "add" a person or resource to her toolkit; she created connections with people who were working (often in isolation) on similar issues to capitalize on the energy being extended to a particular issue, thus significantly increasing the momentum from individual efforts to connected, collaborative forces. 

Through her mentoring and power to connect, I found myself working on gender equity initiatives with individuals from The Vermont Women's Fund, Northern New England Tradeswomen, The Vermont Commission on Women, the Association for Gender Equity Leadership in Education and more. Along with connecting people, Kathy also had a way of identifying important elements of the conversation or issues and bringing them to the forefront. It is through her influence that I now wear an "equity lens" when examining complex and sometimes messy scenarios. Her description of "who has the power" in transaction between people have had a lifelong influence the way I reflect on both professional and personal exchanges.

I have watched Kathy's expertise being sought out over and over again on matters of race, diversity, and gender equity. Whether being recruited to testifying as an expert on these important diversity issues or organizing conferences that brought people together for important dialogue and action planning around these issues, Kathy's influence has been pervasive and is one of  the most inspiring people I have had the pleasure of calling a  colleague. 

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