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Feb. 17, 2011 Volume 32, No. 20

MU center’s diversity work honored by city of Columbia


Award celebrates multicultural appreciati

The MU Center for Multicultural Research, Training and Consultation was one of two honorees at the 14th annual Columbia Values Diversity Awards breakfast on Jan. 13.

The center is a part of the Department of Educational, School and Counseling Psychology in the College of Education. According to a press release from the city of Columbia’s Division of Human Services, “the awards are given to an individual and a group that have made significant contributions in promoting appreciation for diversity and cultural understanding in Columbia.”

Puncky Heppner, co-director of the center, said that he hopes the award will help to publicize the work it does on campus and in the community.

“We have been very impressed with the work of the past recipients of this community award,” he said. “We were deeply honored to receive that recognition. I definitely think it brought very nice attention to our work in the center.”

The center was established in 1998 to conduct research on multicultural issues and to train counseling psychologists to be competent in multicultural situations. The center has expanded to also cover cross-cultural issues and now offers various services not only to students studying counseling and education psychology, but also to other members of the university community.

Awareness programs include seminars, diversity courses and annual lectureship. A two-week cultural immersion trip to Taiwan’s National Taiwan Normal University allows students to hear faculty and community speakers and participate in cultural activities. Heppner said that the exchange program functions as a critical experience for students and faculty who are developing greater cultural competencies.

“We found this experience greatly helps students attain more awareness about how the cultural context affects human behavior, which is very applicable for working in the U.S. and in other countries,” he said.

The center also formed a program called International Student Career Services after the MU Career Center noticed few international students were taking advantage of its programs. Heppner said that the two centers collaborated to make it easier for those students to receive career help.

“International students would say, ‘There’s no one that would understand my situation or what I want to do,’ so I think we can be more sensitive to a broader range of people and their cultural perspective and are prepared to offer better services,” he said.

The center’s repertoire also extends off campus to local public schools. Graduate students work with schoolteachers to administer multicultural and diversity presentations to the elementary and middle school students.

It’s important for the next generation to learn about diversity issues early, Heppner said. It promotes tolerance of different cultural views and an understanding that not everyone sees the world the same way.

“I think when we start at a younger age and we introduce kids to a broader perspective in the world, we find that kids are really curious and want to learn more about people in different cultural contexts,” he said. “Our world is changing very rapidly and if we can introduce students to diversity issues, it makes them better citizens of the U.S. as well as the world.”

— Kelly Nelson