Valoree Gagnon, School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science instructor and research assistant professor of social sciences at Michigan Technological University, was selected as the 2018 University Diversity Award recipient.
The Award recognizes the accomplishments and commitments of a Michigan Tech faculty or staff member who promotes diversity and inclusion through recruitment and retention efforts, teaching, research, multicultural programming, cultural competency, community outreach activities and other initiatives.
Lorelle Meadows, dean of Pavlis Honors College and diversity council co-chair, was on the award review subcommittee that considered nominees’ applications. Meadows noted Gagnon was one of seven qualified faculty and staff nominees from across the University who are doing impressive things on campus to promote diversity.
Meadows said the committee selected Gagnon because “her work covers such a breadth of constituencies and interests on campus that I think that's why she stood out to us. She's an instructor in this area so she contributes her perspective in her teaching so she's touching students. She contributes through external partnerships that she works to build between the University and groups that are off campus. Specifically, she works with our local tribal communities, and she also has an interest in research and scholarship in this area, so she was very well rounded in terms of the way she contributes to the University.”
Meadows also said Gagnon’s “contributions to diversity on campus were strongly evident in the letters of recommendation and the nomination that was presented to us.”
One of Gagnon’s nominees, Melissa Baird, assistant professor of social sciences wrote: “in communities, on grants, in the classroom–she enhances our institutional excellence and broadens and strengthens the University's mission to increase and support diversity. Since 2008, she has worked to connect Keweenaw Bay Indian community members to the Michigan Tech community.
“Whether through classes or community presentations, multi-agency interdisciplinary grants (e.g., NIH and NSF), or in meetings, she seeks opportunities to facilitate tribal and academic partnerships. And,” Baird continued, “she does this in a way that models what collaborative and engaged research practices look like. She demonstrates that these relationships take time, trust and humility. She knows that each community has something to learn and share, and that these collaborations will ultimately promote productive, long-term connections.”
A standout among many
When Gagnon learned she was selected for the award, she “was overwhelmed. ‘I have so many people I need to nominate over the next several years’–that's what I thought. Because of what I do, I see and know other people are doing similar kinds of things in very quiet and invisible ways. And I wouldn't be able to do this without them."
She followed up by saying, “I didn't even know there was an award.” The award is fairly new. Gagnon is only the fourth recipient since it was established and first conferred in 2014.
Gagnon said, “the first person I will nominate is Miguel Levy, professor of physics, for what he has done for Indigenous People’s Day Campaign.” She noted Levy among the many who play a part in the work she does on and off campus. Gagnon acts as a liaison connecting people and campaigns for increasing diversity and being inclusive on campus.
“Without these people,” Gagnon said, “it wouldn't be possible for me to do the kinds of things that I am able to do here–that's students and faculty and also a lot of community members here in Houghton and Baraga counties and different students and teachers from secondary schools, too. So I'm just fortunate to be uniquely positioned, connected to all these people and ideas.”
Valoree Gagnon has been at Michigan Tech for 13 years. She came to campus as an undergraduate.
"To me diversity is more than a to-do list. It's not just about inviting guest speakers that are diverse or having events to celebrate the inclusion of diverse peoples. It's more about how we integrate those lessons into just being who we are. You want others to know, this is the way it is at Michigan Tech. This is what you can expect from our community. Daily."
In reflecting on the University’s efforts at promoting diversity and inclusion she says, “I can see the changes over the last several years. I can see the growth. It's not perfect, but it's growing and strengthening, and I think Michigan Tech should be really proud of that. But of course, there's always room for growth and that’ll take each of us promoting diversity and inclusion in our everyday encounters. I really believe it is no longer a question of ‘should we’ but now a statement of ‘we must.’" Through teaching, research and service, Gagnon is enacting excellence in diversity and inclusion on Michigan Tech’s campus and in the broader Copper Country region.
Gagnon will receive a $2,500 award and be honored during the Faculty Awards Dinner in September.
Michigan Technological University is a public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and is home to more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the best universities in the country for return on investment, the University offers more than 125 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, computing, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.