The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (LAS) has always been committed to issues of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). However, the formation of a new DEI team last July has galvanized a powerhouse of talent. The team is setting ambitious goals, building meaningful networks and establishing the college as a welcoming space where all LAS students, staff and faculty can succeed, grow and thrive at Iowa State University.
“We’ve taken the pieces that were out there and we’ve put them together into one beautiful patchwork quilt,” said Monic Behnken, the LAS associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion. “Our team is pulling in other departments and programs and together we’re all creating a community that is working collaboratively and in the same direction.”
As this team of four weaves a new tapestry of programs, people and plans, positive change is happening. Behnken has witnessed the college’s DEI efforts transition from a few hands into a connected village that continues to expand.
Tailormade for success
As the inaugural associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion, Behnken is confident that her team can make LAS feel like home—for everyone.
“We’re united under a common purpose,” Behnken said. “Our job is to make sure that the culture and climate fosters the success of every single person who has committed to LAS, regardless of their status.”
“We’ve taken the pieces that were out there and we’ve put them together into one beautiful patchwork quilt.”
According to Behnken, this ambitious goal can be achieved, as well as many others, because her team members are passionate and capable.
“My vision for this team is that we help LAS become the destination college on campus with regard to DEI,” Behnken said. “When people think of LAS, I want them to think of DEI excellence and I want them to know that the college prioritizes academic excellence and a welcoming climate.”
Cut from the same cloth
Behnken says that the key to her team’s success is their personal commitment to DEI issues as well as their enthusiasm for the work itself.
“We really enjoy what we’re doing and people have been so receptive to our ideas because we have a smile in our hearts and we bring that into other spaces,” Behnken said. “This really helps us facilitate the work because people see how much professional pleasure we get from engaging in it.”
Every member of Behnken’s team has an important niche, each serving a valued part of LAS—such as students, staff and faculty. Although they reach different demographics, each team member is working toward the success of the LAS community.
“When people go off to college, we tell them, ‘I hope you find your people and a group who understands you,’ and that is exactly how I feel about this team,” Behnken said. “Because we’re all so committed and strong in our areas of DEI, I think as a group, we feel like we’ve found our people.”
Members of the DEI team
As director of the STEM Scholars program, Corey Welch is on a mission to provide life-changing support to underserved students at Iowa State. Welch modeled STEM Scholars after the University of California, Berkeley’s Biology Scholars Program (BSP).
STEM Scholars is a supportive peer-to-peer network that directly addresses the challenges facing STEM students who hail from traditionally excluded groups, including women, underrepresented groups, students with disabilities, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, first-generation students and students from low-income backgrounds.
“Our team is pulling in other departments and programs and together we’re all creating a community that is working collaboratively and in the same direction.”
The program offers a steady stream of support, such as professional development workshops, academic programming and a deep bench of resource referrals—from financial aid to tutoring services. Leads on scholarships, internships and paid summer research jobs provide valuable opportunities as well.
Welch’s goal is to scale up the program, building on its growing membership and supportive network. The program recently secured office space in the new Student Innovation Center. Welch is excited for the STEM Scholars community to learn, grow and collaborate in their new location.
Welch earned a master’s degree in systematics and ecology from the University of Kansas and his Ph.D. in zoology from the University of Washington.
Arnold Woods serves as the DEI team’s director of multicultural student success. He’s responsible for developing and managing student-focused diversity, equity and inclusion programs, projects and partnerships in LAS and across the campus.
Woods’ ties to Iowa State—as a student, researcher and staff member in the Graduate College—span more than a decade. In 2018, Woods founded the Coalition of Black Male Students at Iowa State. The organization continues to thrive as a supportive hub for multicultural students.
In his current role, Woods assists in expanding efforts to recruit, support and retain a diverse student body. He also contributes to the development of a consistent approach for improving culture and climate in the college.
Woods is currently focused on collaborating with DEI colleagues to develop a framework that allows students to thrive and achieve their academic goals in LAS.
Amy Rutenberg is the new LAS equity advisor for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. As a member of the DEI team, she contributes to the college’s strategic goals related to recruiting and retaining diverse faculty.
She also serves as a resource for all LAS departments in the areas of recruiting, hiring, mentoring, professional development, promotion and leadership opportunities for faculty. Rutenberg has been instrumental in coordinating training for LAS faculty hiring committees to help ensure equitable hiring practices.
“We really enjoy what we’re doing and people have been so receptive to our ideas because we have a smile in our hearts and we bring that into other spaces.”
Rutenberg represents LAS within Iowa State University’s ISU ADVANCE program, which integrates best practices and policies to support the equitable development and advancement of faculty.
Her unique fusion of academic, research and leadership experience brings to the team a deep, disciplinary understanding about how cultures of exclusion have operated historically in the United States. In her role as associate professor of history, Rutenberg is a skilled researcher. Her studies explore the relationships among war, gender, militarization and American society, specifically the second half of the 20th century.
Rutenberg earned a master’s degree in education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a doctorate from the University of Maryland.
Monic Behnken is the team’s leader and she drives the group’s direction and vision. In this leadership role, she develops, directs, evaluates and supports DEI programs and initiatives throughout the college.
Behnken also builds collaborative networks, creative educational opportunities and a foundation for measurable success to improve the LAS culture and climate.
“Our job is to make sure that the culture and climate fosters the success of every single person who has committed to LAS, regardless of their status.”
Behnken has served in many leadership roles at Iowa State, including director of the Leadership Studies Program. An associate professor in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice, Behnken is also an accomplished researcher in the areas of criminal justice and mental health.
On a state level, Behnken has led initiatives to advance diversity, equity and inclusion with the Iowa Association of School Boards, the Equity Working Group of the Governor’s STEM Advisory Council and the Statewide Civics Education Planning Committee.
Behnken earned a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Pacific Graduate School of Psychology in Palo Alto, California. She also holds a J.D. from Golden Gate University of Law in San Francisco and is a licensed attorney.