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Release: Sept. 25, 2002

Catalyst Awards recognize those who make diversity a priority

Charlotte Westerhaus, a UI assistant to the president and director of the Office of Affirmative Action, says that for the university to become an increasingly diverse place, more people need to think about diversity than those whose job description says they must.

"Many effective diversity initiatives come from the university community at-large, so we must encourage more people to think along those lines," said Westerhaus.

Fortunately, the university has people who have taken that initiative. The Office of Affirmative Action will honor several of them when they are presented with Catalyst Awards in ceremonies on Thursday, Oct. 3. The four-year old Catalyst program recognizes individuals and departments who have developed innovative programs, policies or activities that have had a positive effect on improving diversity in the university community.

"It emphasizes that by working together we can develop creative, effective diversity initiatives to create one university community," Westerhaus said. "We're not merely east or west side of the river, men or women, black or white, but united as one university community striving to foster and support diversity."

Recipients of this year's awards include:

Individual Award

--Dr. Barbara Muller, associate professor of internal medicine in the Carver College of Medicine.

--Dr. Virginia Spiegel Woodard, office of student affairs and curriculum in the Carver College of Medicine.

Departmental Award

--School of Social Work, accepted by Salome Raheim, director of the School of Social Work.

--Iowa Biosciences Award Program, accepted by Beverly Davidson and Sarah England, co-directors.

Barbara Muller may best typify the success that comes from these kinds of programs. She admits that when she became the chair of the diversity committee of the Iowa Chapter of the American Society of Physicians/American Society of Internal Medicine in 1996, "I didn't know anything about diversity. But I've learned a lot in six years and now I understand how important it is to know about people of diverse backgrounds."

The Catalyst Awards presentation ceremony will be held from 4 to 5:30 p.m. in the North Room in the Iowa Memorial Union. Admission is free and open to the public.

Individual Awards:

Dr. Virginia Woodard is being honored for incorporating different cultural experiences into the medical school's curriculum so students become more culturally competent physicians. The initiative has both formal and informal elements, including group lectures, personal and professional development and brown bag lunches that help students learn how patients' cultural backgrounds affect how physicians will diagnose and treat them.

For instance, she pointed to an incident recently when a Sudanese couple came to the UI Hospital because the wife was ill. During the interview with the physician, only the husband spoke and the wife silently averted her eyes throughout.

"Physicians need to be more aware of these cultural differences and have some information so they can obtain the information they need, always keeping in mind that the bottom line is that the patient is well cared-for," she said.

But she added the curriculum doesn't provide an "if-then" model that tells students how to work with patients from different cultures. Instead, it teaches them the basics of different cultures and how that background affects what patients will say and what kind of treatment they may or may not want.

"There's no table that says 'if the patient is Hispanic, this is what you do,'" she said. "We teach them about these various cultures that you need to know because they may be entering into a conversation with a patient from one of them."

Dr. Barbara Muller is being honored for her work in introducing diversity to internal physicians throughout the state, particularly in rural areas.

As chair of the Diversity Committee of the Iowa Chapter of the American College of Physicians/American Society of Internal Medicine, she's brought the message of diversity to doctors around the state. Since she became chair in 1996, the committee has sponsored numerous lectures and workshops at the group's statewide meetings in Iowa City.

Among the speakers have been Stephen Bloom, UI professor of journalism and author of "Postville: A Clash of Cultures in Heartland America," who discussed what happened in the small town of Postville, Iowa, after a large number of conservative Lubavitcher Jews moved there to work in a Kosher slaugherhouse; and Carma L. Bylund, UI assistant professor in the department of community and behavioral health in the College of Public Health and in the department of communications studies, who addressed common diversity scenarios in health care and provided direction on effective communication techniques and relationship skills to improve the quality of the interaction.

So far, Muller said the program has had a positive effect on the doctors.

"It's been an eye-opener for many of them and they often tell me they didn't know about diversity issues until we told them," she said.

Departmental Awards

The UI School of Social Work is being recognized for a multi-pronged effort that's aimed at retaining minority students and faculty, and preparing students for work in a diverse cultural environment.

Salome Reheim, director of the School of Social Work, said that since Latinos and Latinas are becoming a significant minority group within Iowa, the school decided to focus on strengthening services to people in those communities. It worked with other UI departments and state agencies to initiate an annual statewide Latino/Latina conference entitled "Strengthening and Valuing Latino/Latina Communities," introducing students and faculty to Iowans of Latin American heritage and learning the cultural and social issues they face. The school also partnered with the West Liberty Partnership Program to give students experience working directly with Latinos and Latinas and is co-sponsor of a Day of the Dead celebration, a Latin American ritual.

So far, the work has paid off, said Raheim.

"Focus groups have shown that students are now much more aware of what is expected of them to work effectively with diverse populations," she said. "In their feedback, they've told us of the importance of cultural competence and have said 'you've taken us this far, now take us further.'"

She said the school plans to expand its cultural competence initiative to other minority groups in the future.

The Iowa Biosciences Advantage Program is being honored for its unique interdisciplinary collaborative nature to help minority students study for numerous biosciences careers. By providing financial and other opportunities, the program assists gifted minority students to study such biosciences as medicine, pharmacy, nursing and chemistry.

Beverly Davidson, the program's director, said students receive such assistance as hands-on research experience, supplemental instruction, wages for laboratory research, reimbursement for travel to seminars and conferences, and a laptop computer. She said the four-year old program is funded largely by the National Institutes of Health as part of the organization's goal to increase the number of minority professionals working in biosciences.

The program is designed only for students who can meet a certain level of intellectual rigor, Davidson said, as students must meet minimum GPA and test score requirements to participate and a minimum UI GPA of 3.0 to stay in the program.

"Our goal is not only to provide these students with opportunities they may not otherwise have, but also increase campus-wide diversity with a high degree of minority intellectuals," she said.

The program is also unique in that it is a collaborative effort between the Colleges of Medicine, Pharmacy, Dentistry, Liberal Arts, Public Health and Engineering.

The four-year old program currently enrolls about 35 students a year with plans to increase to 50, Davidson said.