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Story written by Stefany Sanders

The sixth cohort of Culture Champions recently completed the 18-credit requirement of the 2022 Inclusive Leaders Academy (ILA) program at Georgia Tech after being nominated for and accepted into the program last fall. Thirty-five staff, faculty, and research leaders across 27 departments join hundreds of previous participants as Institute Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion seeks to grow a community of self-aware, mindful, and socially intelligent people called inclusive leaders. 

Participants are strengthened in self-awareness, how to create psychological safety, and interactions across differences or in the face of challenge, uncertainty, and change. Since the program’s 2017 debut, nearly 450 participants have completed the full curriculum and received designation as ‘Culture Champions’. ILA provides tools and techniques through wisdom labs designed to evoke individual leader insights and transformation. 

“The ILA program offers leaders the opportunity and space to be deeply self-reflective and choose how best to integrate their learning into their everyday interactions with colleagues, including direct reports,” said Pearl Alexander, executive director of diversity, inclusion, and engagement, and founder, principal designer and lead facilitator of the program. “Because of the nature of this work, and the virtual format we have adopted since 2020, we intentionally reduced the number of participants we accepted this year to create a more intimate cohort experience. The Inclusive Leaders Academy is Institute Diversity, Equity and Inclusion’s signature leadership development program and is vital to operationalizing the values set forth in the 2020-30 strategic plan, and we must continue to explore how we provide quality at scale.” 

Core curriculum content was curated from the NeuroLeadership Institute on the Neuroscience of Teams (INCLUDE) and Breaking Bias (DECIDE), and Dare to Lead, an authentic leadership book authored by and based on the research of Brené Brown, Ph.D. Content is also inclusive of other research-based programs including Racial Healing by Anneliese Singh, Ph.D. and Creating a Calling in Culture by Loretta Ross, Ph.D. The ILA continued tapping the expertise of Georgia Tech colleagues Joi Alexander, director of health initiatives, and Sonia Alvarez-Robinson, Ph.D., executive director of strategic consulting to facilitate the Resilience elective, and Dean Stephanie Ray coached more than 20 participants on writing their personal diversity stories, a requirement of the program. 

New with the 2022 cohort was kickoff speaker Anna Deveare Smith, an actress, playwright, and professor, who reminded us of the power of stories using theatre to highlight and punctuate the effects of inequality and discord on American communities. Susan O’Halloran instructed the diversity stories workshop and Lani Peterson, Ph.D. joined the line-up of story coaches.  

The closing workshop this year on Understanding Systemic Racism with Steve Robbins, Ph.D. aimed to integrate parts of the entire curriculum. In a powerful interactive session, Robbins lectured on the brain science behind racist behavior and how being open-minded is an intentional act that is challenging for our brain, which prefers certainty. “Certainty closes the door to new information. It is the enemy of curiosity,” Robbins said. He also introduced racism as a formula made up of three components working together and dependent on each other to function in society: individual racial bias + institutional power + conferring privileges to some and not others. 

President Ángel Cabrera, M.S. PSY 1993, Ph.D. PSY 1995, and Archie W. Ervin, Ph.D. welcomed cohort six at the ILA kickoff on February 15 after a rigorous review of 123 nominations by the ILA leadership team.  

“Sharon Riehl, Jillian Jantosciak, and Stefany Sanders did a brilliant job of collaborating and modeling our values as they executed oversight for all aspects of the program,” Alexander said. I am grateful for such amazing colleagues.” 

The newest cohort of Culture Champions includes John Avery, David Bamburowski, Dawn Baunach, Priti Bhatia, Christian Birk, Rayne Bozeman, Amanda Brown, Marla Bruner, Chad Bryant, Caitlin Buro, Mayumi Cole, Macy Fennell, Curtis Free, Houston Freeman, Warren Goetzel, Michelle Gowdy, Linda Green, Joy Harris, Eric Hoffman, Aisha Johnson, Julie Kimble, Joseph Ludlum, Alexis Martinez, Lea Marzo, Julie McCoy, Kevin Mcvay, Emily Monago, Kennedy Oyoo, Chauncey Price, Anne Rogers, Todd Shayler, Kellye Terrell, Ami Waller-Ivanecky, Camerin White, and Ruth Yow.

To learn more about the Inclusive Leaders Academy, visit