ROCHESTER, Minn. (Aug. 2019) – Chao Mwatela, the multicultural academic advisor at Rochester Community & Technical College (RCTC), has been named a recipient of a 2019 Cultural Jambalaya Diversity Award, which honors those who have made a positive difference by advancing multiculturalism and ethnic diversity in their Minnesota communities. Mwatela is being recognized for her extensive work in bringing diversity and inclusion programming and numerous other initiatives to the RCTC campus that build an equitable environment for all students.
Driven to create an equitable world, Mwatelais the co-chair of the Equity & Inclusion Council at RCTC; developed and implemented diversity programming across campus (including a weekly Multicultural Student Series where she meets with first generation and underrepresented students to help them better navigate college life); and developed a leadership and peer mentorship program for immigrant and international students. Mwatela also works with Student Leaders Creating Change, a collaboration with the Rochester Diversity Council, a program that aims to make the campus and community a more welcoming and inclusive place. She also collaborates with Student Life at RCTC to develop and coordinate diversity programming and activities such as Black History Month that reach not only people of color, but also the greater community of Rochester.
About Chao Mwatela
In selecting the Diversity Award recipients, a panel of independent judges evaluated the nominees’ impact, the creativity of their approach, and the passion of their voice. The winners will be honored at Cultural Jambalaya’s annual gala at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 3, 2019.
“These amazing champions demonstrate a collective understanding of the cultures, ethnicities, and races that make Minnesota a dynamic, prosperous, and tolerant place,” said Ann Merrill, board chair of Cultural Jambalaya, a Twin Cities-based nonprofit that promotes respect and understanding for all cultures.
Other winners of Cultural Jambalaya’s 2018 Diversity Awards
South Saint Paul Secondary School’s Affinity Groups
Jessica Davis, Affinity Group Leader
South Saint Paul Secondary School’s affinity groups’ teachers, led by Minnesota’s 2019 Teacher of the Year Jessica Davis, promote much-needed conversations around the school’s increasingly diverse student population. The teachers’ groups represent high school students from different backgrounds, including new-to-country and multilingual learners, that are underrepresented in the community. The teachers took their students’ experiences of being marginalized and repurposed them into a source of energy for positive change. Their collective work has provided a space where the students and the community are further educated on equity and multiculturalism, and where students have experiences in advocacy and leadership that prepares them for their lives as active citizens.
Coalition of Asian American Leaders (CAAL)
Hello Neighbor MinneAsianStories initiative
Bo Thao-Urabe,Executive and Network Director
Coalition of Asian American Leaders’ unique story-telling initiative, Hello Neighbor MinneAsianStories, brings together multi-ethnic groups and makes them realize that through their stories, they can build new relationships to help ensure that Asian Pacific Americans are included in collective efforts that make Minnesota a better place for everyone. CAAL has succeeded in portraying the rich diversity and multiculturalism of people of Asian Pacific descent living in Minnesota by illustrating in words what data charts cannot truly convey. As a result, MinneAsianStories creates opportunities within the Asian Pacific community and the larger Minnesota community to deepen collective understanding and to engage with one another.
Stillwater Area High School’s Carnation Podcast Team
a collaboration with Family Means’ Cimarron Teen Program and StoryArk
A group of first-generation immigrant students from Mexico, Columbia, El Salvador, Vietnam, and Cameroon have created an original narrative podcast called Carnation. Using the power of storytelling to expand understanding and increase empathy, the students have written the script, acted the roles, recorded and edited four original episodes that depict realistic fiction and considers important issues, including immigration, deportation and discrimination. The Carnation Podcast team refuses to be an absent narrative. Carnation uplifts student voices to an audience that would otherwise be ignorant of their experiences. With honesty and hope, they are bravely making an impact on people in Stillwater and the St. Croix Valley community.
2019 Cultural Jambalaya Diversity Awards
Cultural Jambalaya’s Diversity Awards, presented by Ciresi Conlin LLP, will begin at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 3, 2019, at the Metropolitan Ballroom in Golden Valley, Minn. Tickets, which include dinner and music by T. Mychael Rambo, are available online at www.CulturalJam.org. For information about the event, contact James Peterson at 612-655-9075 or info@CulturalJam.org.
In addition to Presenting Sponsor Ciresi Conlin LLP, other sponsors include: North Memorial Health, Tremendous! Entertainment, DS+B Accountants, Great Clips, The Michael Werch Family, Connie Barry Foundation, and Route 66 Productions.
About Cultural Jambalaya
A creator and provider of educational resources, Twin Cites-based Cultural Jambalaya was founded on the belief that humanity is advanced by illuminating the traditions, customs and everyday activities enjoyed by people all over the world. When we learn how another culture celebrates, mourns, works and plays, we gain a richer understanding of ourselves and of the values that unify our communities. Windows onto other worlds, we believe, are also mirrors.
Cultural Jambalaya’s work includes the production of the national award-winning “Windows & Mirrors” video series featuring images and narratives from across the globe. Educators use the videos — available without charge at www.CulturalJam.org — as creative teaching tools in the classroom to broaden world views of students and to illustrate the diverse cultural backgrounds that make up America’s rich mosaic.
The“Windows & Mirrors” series is produced by Kevin May and Tremendous! Entertainment, creator and producer of Travel Channel’s hit series, “Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern.”
More about Chao Mwatela
Chao Mwatela has worked at RCTC for 11 years and has been serving as the Multicultural Advisor for two years. She was an international student and has also worked in the K-12 system. In her combined experience in education, she has encountered the unique barriers that multicultural students face, as well as the opportunities that exist to better serve these students.
At RCTC, Mwatela, works in partnership with the Rochester Diversity Council to help complete campus-wide needs assessments, which have resulted in an effort to train, plan, and implement diversity and inclusion programming for students, staff and faculty. She has developed many initiatives on campus, including a weekly rolling-topic multicultural series where she meets with first generation and underrepresented students to help them better navigate college life.
Mwatela also co-facilitates a leadership program on campus for underrepresented students that has resulted in the development of a peer mentorship program that launches in the fall of 2019. Mwatela is highly regarded for going above and beyond to integrate students. Many of the students she advises are part of underrepresented groups that have faced prejudice and other hardships. For example, she has gone to great lengths to find a Hmong counselor to support students; has connected with local organizations to develop a student translator program, in which bi-lingual students will be trained in interpretation and translation techniques; and supports students who are second-language learners by fighting for accommodations to meet their specific needs.
Mwatela has turned a close eye to campus policies that present barriers to success for underrepresented students, as well as grant-funding policies, some of which currently exclude international students. Multicultural students seek her out and trust her, as she has a common understanding of immigrant needs. Mwatela fosters trust and comradery among her students.
“Chao also has directly impacted the lives of students with financial challenges by working directly with them to obtain grant money for cost of living expenses that would otherwise prohibit them from obtaining an education,” said Jennifer Dahle, RCTC student advisor. “She advocates fiercely for students that might not otherwise disclose financial issues that are a barrier to enrollment.”
This summer, RCTC is creating an Equity & Inclusion Office, a physical space where multicultural students and others facing any kind of adversity can feel safe, supported, and welcome. Mwatela was integral in advocating for this space by consistently bringing the diverse needs of students to the forefront. The Office will include specific resources, such as advisory support, mentorship, and access to community resources.
The Equity & Inclusion Office will also house the peer mentorship program, where students will “thrive in the hive,” with more experienced students helping first-year students become integrated and successful in college activities and life. The Office will also host a communal space where students can gather, socialize, do homework, and form new relationships.
“I’ve heard from countless students that they would not have graduated without the support of Chao,” said Kate Slisz, a facilitator at the Diversity Council. “Always warm and welcoming to new students, Chao diligently works to develop a more positive experience for students at RCTC. She is sincere in her listening and helping students reach their goals. Chao takes a holistic approach. She doesn’t just care about their academic needs; she cares about what’s going on in their whole lives as well.”
Mwatela is driven to remove persistent barriers that create an “opportunity gap’ for underrepresented students. As a mother of a pre-teen female, she would like equity in all sectors, a better world for all women, and for all who are unable to break through the barriers of our society. Immigrating here from Kenya when she was 19, she knows firsthand the challenges that multicultural students face. Mwatela wants to ensure that students have a strong start in higher education and are able to obtain the resources needed to succeed and navigate the challenges of college life. She looks at everything she does through a lens of equity.