Sep 27, 2022 - Atlanta, GA
Each fall, Institute Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion honors one faculty member, staff member, student, and campus unit who have worked to advance a culture of inclusive excellence at Georgia Tech with Diversity Champion Awards during its annual Diversity Symposium.
This year’s symposium explored the illusion of inclusion and the invisible barriers that can make belonging difficult to achieve for some individuals. This year’s diversity champions have spent their time at Georgia Tech working to help build communities and help provide underrepresented students, faculty, and staff with spaces that allow them to be their true, authentic selves.
Donna M. Ennis, director of diversity engagement and program development with the Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute (faculty), Arianna Robinson, assistant director of business operations for the Ray C. Anderson Center for Sustainable Business in the Scheller College of Business (staff), Nina Sara Fraticelli-Guzman, fourth-year doctoral student in bioengineering in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering (student), and the LGBTQIA Resource Center (unit) were each recognized as Diversity Champions for their commitment to building community and belonging at Georgia Tech.
Donna M. Ennis
Donna M. Ennis has been breaking down barriers for underrepresented and underserved business leaders and enterprises with Georgia Tech since 2004, and her passion for serving minority business enterprises (MBEs) has positioned her at the forefront of helping MBEs learn and understand the role that technology plays in scaling businesses.
As director of diversity engagement and program development for the Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute (EI2), Donna has dedicated her time, talent, and treasure to addressing systemic inequities that MBEs experience. She is a staunch advocate for the minority business community and has experienced first-hand what it’s like to be the only person of color in a room where critical decisions are being made about MBEs.
“In 2004, I wrote and won a grant to operate a Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) Business Center here at Georgia Tech,” she explained. “While we had been serving the business community—primarily small businesses and manufacturers—for years, we had not focused on the minority business enterprise community. Once we began this journey, I realized that this is my passion—bringing equity to marginalized businesses and communities.”
Through her work with the MBDA, Donna has built a community of successful MBEs and entrepreneurs dedicated to supporting each other and lifting each other up.
“In order to make others feel welcome, we’ve got to look within ourselves,” she explained. “One of the golden rules of life is to treat others how you would want to be treated. Not only should we follow that rule, but we must also learn to be more embracing of each other’s differences.”
According to Donna, this can sometimes mean stepping out of your comfort zone and reaching across the aisle to another person. It can also mean not being afraid to speak up for others who aren’t present.
“I learn so much from my clients,” she said. “We’ve created a strong community. Through their eyes, I see what it’s like to do business in a world that wasn’t built to equitably; and yet their resilience is inspiring.”
As a biracial Black woman, Arianna Robinson, assistant director of business operations for the Ray C. Anderson Center for Sustainable Business in the Scheller College of Business, is no stranger to the barriers that Black students and professionals face while trying to find a sense of belonging in the classroom and the conference room. While earning her MBA at Scheller, Arianna and her classmates saw the need for a space that would allow Black students to be able to show up fully as themselves.
“For most people of color, we’ve spent our entire lives figuring out how to best assimilate into environments that have historically been built on and centered on values of whiteness,” Arianna said. “Everyone wants to feel seen and heard, and we need to be able to do that as our authentic selves. Blacks in Business at Georgia Tech [an organization for MBA students] was created to provide Black students with a safe space where they don’t have to talk a certain way, watch their tone, or be concerned about being perceived as ‘too much, difficult, or intimidating.’”
She continues to serve as the group’s staff advisor where she helps current members educate others on what it’s like to show up in unsafe spaces. The overall goal is to build a community of allies who have the power to disrupt those unsafe systems.
In addition to her work in building community among Black graduate students, Arianna also organizes and facilitates racial equity discussions among graduate students; alumni panels on allyship; and a book discussion group for the Scheller community that focuses on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
“I’m empowered to lead these initiatives because I understand the need for and the benefits of diversity, equity, and inclusion activities,” she said. “These initiatives make people feel like they matter, and they make me feel like I matter. I’m just grateful for the access and ability to do my part.”
Nina Sara Fraticelli-Guzman
For fourth-year bioengineering doctoral student Nina Sara Fraticelli-Guzmán, community and belonging happen when you find a group of people that you enjoy spending time with and that you go on to build deep connections with, who love and support you through the great times, and help you through the tough times. They listen, offer support, and challenge your actions, assumptions, and thoughts to help you grow.
Born and raised in Puerto Rico, she attributes her passion for building inclusive spaces to the community in which she was raised.
“I grew up in a family and neighborhood where we knew our neighbors, their families, and got to spend lots of time talking and sharing experiences and old stories,” she said. “I also come from a family of community leaders, so I often saw the value of bringing others in and working to maintain an environment, both physical and social, where others could flourish, regardless of whether or not we agreed on all fronts.”
When she arrived at Georgia Tech after completing her bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at MIT, Nina Sara began her search for a community. She quickly became involved with the Latino Organization of Graduate Students (LOGRAS) external outreach committee, where she helped build programming for communities outside of Georgia Tech to teach them about the importance of STEM fields and higher education. Throughout her time at Tech, Nina Sara has held several positions within LOGRAS, including the president. During her tenure as president, she built relationships with corporations that provide professional development opportunities and mentorship to LOGRAS members. She currently serves as president of the Fellowship of Christian Graduate Students (FCCS), where she is able to combine her passion for lifting others with her Christian faith.
“My faith and my upbringing have been the foundation that showed me the importance of welcoming people and supporting them to grow and reach their highest potential,” she said. “It’s a matter of starting a conversation and taking a chance—we all have initial thoughts and make assumptions about someone, but we have to be intentional about not letting those assumptions influence how we treat an individual before we actually get the chance to learn who they are.”
Her hope is that those who are still searching for a place to belong know that they’re not alone and that there are student groups to get involved with on campus.
“Georgia Tech has several student organizations run by people who would love to meet you,” she said. “Take the chance to meet someone new or join a new club; you might surprise yourself and find people you’ll be able to call friends, mentors, and family.”
LGBTQIA Resource Center
Since it was established in 2014, the LGBTQIA Resource Center has worked to create opportunities for students, faculty, and staff to embrace and express all aspects of their identities and be their whole, authentic selves without judgment or condition.
“For many of the staff members in our center, our passion comes from our own experiences of feeling included and excluded or seeing the impact of these practices on our communities,” said Tegra Myanna, director of the LGBTQIA Resource Center. “We’ve each engaged with and been supported by inclusive practices or spaces and know of their power to allow our community members to thrive.”
The LGBTQIA Resource Center focuses on the experience of queer and transgender community members by providing spaces for them to explore their identities and build community with their peers.
“Community and belonging are the foundation of the work that we do,” they said. “It means more than a sense of both physical and psychological safety; when reached, community and belonging mean comfort and sense of connection that allows us to fully engage with our professional, academic, and personal selves in the spaces we occupy.”
Through their education and training curriculum, they are also committed to influencing culture change at Georgia Tech and building a coalition of allies and advocates who will center the experiences of queer and transgender individuals by ensuring policies are inclusive and LGBTQIA-friendly; holding others and themselves accountable for their words, assumptions, and actions; and promoting allyship as a desirable and necessary practice.
“There are so many things that individuals can do to make our peers feel more welcome,” Tegra explained. “A great first step is to learn more and educate yourself on topics that you feel less knowledgeable or aware of. This can be done within a group through trainings or workshops, individually with staff from the LGBTQIA Resource Center, or independently using the internet or published materials.”
Another major factor of allyship is having the courage to hold your peers accountable, according to Tegra.
“When others in your community are being exclusionary or discriminatory, true allyship requires that we speak up and let them know that those behaviors won’t be tolerated,” they said. “This can be difficult, but when we start to do this in our personal and professional spheres of influence, we start to create more welcoming and inclusive communities.”