by MADDIE SWENSON
In 2015, Dr. Nicholas Wysocki began laying the foundation for a new, yearlong graduate program designed to prepare professionals to work more effectively with diverse clientele.
Wysocki, an assistant professor of education studies at Winona State University-Rochester, set out to create a program that could have positive impact in professional sectors throughout Southeast Minnesota, from education, health, law enforcement and social service to faith, non-profit, arts, military, business and industry.
The new Multicultural Education Certificate Program (MECP) provides participants the opportunity to analyze their own cultural experiences as well as examine demographic differences — including, but not limited to, ethnic, racial, socioeconomic, gender, sexuality, religious, linguistic, physical and cognitive — in their social and professional communities. The MECP can function as a stand-alone certificate or the credit hours can be applied to a master’s degree or Ph.D. program.
“This program serves a very distinct need in the region, and helps give people the skills to improve themselves, their communities and their work environments,” said Wysocki.
Through the four-course curriculum, students are invited to identify an equity issue in their respective communities. Students then work with a specific demographic population to study that issue and shape an action plan to address it. The intended outcome is to help participants develop their own multicultural competence as well as critically analyze the equity issues faced by members of diverse communities and workplaces.
For example, a previous MECP participant undertook to study the barriers preventing family involvement for Somali communities served by a kindergarten through eighth grade school in Circle Pines, Minn. Through identifying and working to understand these barriers, the school is better positioned to develop a plan to create stronger relationships with the Somali families it serves, both through reinforcing existing infrastructure as well creating new paths and services beneficial for the Somali families and students.
“The goal is to get the student to think about who is being served within their professional sector and how might the delivery of those services be improved,” said Wysocki. The action plan is a key step of the process, he added. It shifts the focus from identifying problems to moving toward solutions.
The idea for MECP emerged after a conversation between Wysocki and Dean of WSU College of Education Dr. Tarrell Portman. Portman had worked with a similar program in Iowa City, Iowa, and both Wysocki and Portman saw vital needs that could be served across the diverse professional sectors and populations in Rochester, Winona and even parts of the Metro area.
“Rochester is now the third largest city in Minnesota, and a large part of that growth is diverse populations,” said Wysocki. “As our communities, workplaces and schools become more diverse, the need emerges for discussion, for collaboration, for intentional consideration of how different populations are being effectively served.”
Wysocki’s own experience as a Fellow in Rochester’s Collaborative Leadership Program (CLF) helped prepare him to shape the course content and hybrid delivery methods for the Multicultural Education Certificate Program. Through CLF he practiced and developed skills for working collaboratively across the county, school district, higher education, business, non-profit, and faith-based sectors in Rochester. In addition, members of his CLF cohort, which included representatives from across various professional sectors in Rochester, eventually became parts of his MECP planning group and advisory groups. The development of the MECP curriculum in itself became an exercise in collaboration, working in concert with Portman and his CLF cohort, and incorporating suggestions from the WSU Graduate Council.
Since joining the WSU community of learners in 2009, Wysocki has focused much of his work on teaching, service, and working with learners on research projects that benefit the community. The members of WSU’s first MECP cohort received their certificates in fall 2017 and are busy sharing their new skills and understanding across the Rochester, Winona and Minneapolis areas.
As for Wysocki, his next steps include making the Multicultural Education Certificate Program accessible to undergraduates, as well as shaping the curriculum to meet specific training needs for professional organizations in Rochester, Southeast Minnesota, the Metro area, and western Wisconsin.
“Through collaboration, our communities can come together to develop solutions, to support each other, and to discover new and better ways of achieving common goals,” said Wysocki. “It’s only through working together that we can truly hope to improve our world.”