Important Work

A group smiles at the camera at USD's first Diversity and Inclusion Impact Awards Ceremony. They are from left to right: Pauline Berryman Powell, President James T. Harris, Sarina Molina ’10 (EdD), Rhonda Harley, Vice President and Provost Gail F. Baker, Reyes Quezada ’83 (MEd), Odesma Dalrymple and Jesse Mills ’04 (MA).


On a rainy day in late February 2022, the Inaugural Diversity and Inclusion Impact Award ceremony kicked off in a room of people filled with hope, gratitude and an eye on the horizon.

The event was hosted by USD’s Center for Inclusion and Diversity. The award was created to recognize outstanding faculty members and staff from the School of Leadership and Education Sciences (SOLES); the Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering (SMSE) and the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) for their work with helping communities of color, as well as those who are underserved and marginalized. 

Surrounded by family and colleagues, the six recipients — Reyes Quezada, ’83 (MEd), EdD, and Sarina Molina, ’10 (EdD) from SOLES; Odesma Dalrymple, PhD, and Rhonda Harley, MS from SMSE, along with Jesse Mills, ’04 (MA) ’08 (PhD) and Pauline Berryman Powell, MA, from CAS — were presented with their awards from President James T. Harris III, Provost Gail Baker and Vice Provost Regina Dixon-Reeves.

Harley, the interim senior director of career development at SMSE, expressed gratitude for feeling seen and heard for her work supporting and mentoring students in the STEM disciplines. “This work is ingrained in me. This is passion for me,” she said. “I’m grateful for this, since it’s rare to have staff acknowledged, I just want to name that. To know that I get to — in partnership with faculty — be acknowledged for this work is really powerful for me.” 

The award was created in 2021 to honor and recognize the experiences of Black and Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) on campus. Whether through their research, their work with students or through their community partnerships, the award recipients have made it their mission to level the playing field in higher education. Aside from the recognition, a certificate and a plaque, the awardees also received a stipend of $1,000. 

While they differ in their areas of study and work, the awardees were united by their passion for making positive changes at USD, recognizing the accomplishments made thus far and outlining the work that lies ahead.

Ethnic Studies Professor Jesse Mills reflected on his early days at the university: “My colleagues hired me as a young hopeful person with a lot of ideas in 2006, and I was honored to get the job, which was about building ethnic studies as a field. My mentors have taught me how to be a better teacher and to ask, ‘Can we, as a community of educators, get on the same page? Can we hold each other, lovingly and caringly, to as high and loving a standard as we can?’ It’s been an honor to give my time and energy unselfishly, which is what has been modeled for me from the folks that I run with here.”

Molina also sees collaboration as key. “This work is never done in isolation. I wish to extend my deepest gratitude to all those who have worked tirelessly to think deeply and to think hard about what diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice look like in action,” she said. “I’d also like to thank my wise father, who always said, ‘Put your head down and do good work.’ Likewise, my spiritual teacher always taught me the importance of selfless service, that true service is done in silence.”

Quezada, a professor and chair of the Department of Learning and Teaching for SOLES, noted that this work is ongoing. “For me, the support of diversity, equity and inclusion is not a one-semester or one-year accomplishment event, but a lifetime dedication to la causa, the cause, in many fronts: in my profession, in my community and in my daily actions,” he said. 

“My colleagues really brought me in and helped me fulfill this mission to make engineering’s identity more inclusive and socially connected,” said Dalrymple. She was effusive in noting the welcoming nature of her colleagues, particularly when she brought her infant daughter to work. 

“The fact that I was able to bring my daughter here — literally, from when she was born — into the classroom is amazing. I never felt weird or strange for doing that; colleagues just welcomed her and embraced that notion that we don’t have to be separate from our lives and our families,” she said. “These things can be integrated, which is a big part of this concept of inclusion. We can come as who we are, and we can bring all the things that make us unique, all the experiences that have shaped us. All those things are accepted and honored and celebrated at USD.”

Berryman Powell’s closing remarks noted that the work of diversity, equity and inclusion require us all to do our part.

“What’s amazing about my job is that I can affect change right away. I’m able to have an impact,” she said. “The late U.S. Congressman John Lewis had a phrase about doing something for the greater good: ‘Good trouble.’ I try to stay in good trouble by mixing it up and asking the questions: ‘Why are we doing it like that? Because we’ve always done it like that? Maybe there’s another way to resolve this issue.’ I’m going to keep asking those questions. There’s a word in Swahili that I learned years ago: It’s called harambe, which means, ‘Let’s get together and push.’” — Lissette Martinez

Pictured from left to right: Pauline Berryman Powell, President James T. Harris, Sarina Molina ’10 (EdD), Rhonda Harley, Vice President and Provost Gail F. Baker, Reyes Quezada ’83 (MEd), Odesma Dalrymple and Jesse Mills ’04 (MA). Photo by Barbara Ferguson.

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