Sheena Jacobs moved frequently with her family in her early years, residing in various southern states before eventually returning to her native North Carolina. “The frequent relocations influenced how I chose [to] navigate the world and instilled the importance of community and support,” she says. The experience has driven her, as the Assistant Director in University Career Services (UCS), to provide support and a sense of community to students as they prepare for their journey beyond Carolina.
A champion for diversity, equity, and inclusion, Sheena is known for her visionary leadership. She has developed and implemented successful strategies and programs that serve as models of excellence both inside and outside of the UNC community.
For example, tasked by the Vice Provost and Vice Chancellor to support the pilot program, Retention Through Recruitment (RTR), to increase the number and success of African-American males enrolling as undergraduates, she used her voice to assure that issues of diversity are factored into the institution’s strategies and part of everyone’s professional growth plan. She also initiated the collaboration between UCS and Carolina’s Office for Men of Color Engagement (MOC) in the creation of the Extending the Reach of Career Services program, which helps minority male students navigate the academic climate and become aware of opportunities at UNC. In addition, as Carolina and Career Development Co-Chair for UNC’s Wom(x)n of Worth Initiative, Sheena piloted a four-part Lunch & Learn series promoting academic preparedness, holistic student wellness and success, identity development, and career readiness for female faculty, staff, and students of color.
A fireball of energy, she impresses both the students that she inspires and her colleagues at Carolina. “She sets the standard for student affairs professionals striving to enact diversity and inclusion programs,” says Patricia Harris, director of recruitment at the School of Education. “She’s the one who prods her colleagues to be vigilant about providing respect, appreciation, and inclusion to everyone.”
At what point in your career in higher education did you recognize the need for diversity and inclusion programming…and how do you implement it in your work?
Project Uplift (Diversity & Inclusion’s on-campus program for high-achieving rising high school seniors) was my very first introduction to college. I recognized then that diversity and inclusion is essential to empowering college readiness and exploring all of the possibilities to select the institution of best fit for them. This type of programming shows up in my collaborations with campus partners and my increased visibility in student spaces. I enjoy connecting with employers committed to inclusive excellence in the workplace through their initiatives and pipeline programs.
Most recently, I had the honor of serving as a faculty member for NASPA’s (Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education) Dungy Leadership Institute. The University of Illinois at Chicago’s Student Affairs Department hosted 31 students and 13 faculty/staff members from across the country for the Dungy Leadership Institute, part of the NASPA Undergraduate Fellow Program (NUFP). As a faculty member, I had the privilege of getting to know these students as they explored leadership skills and enhanced their cultural competencies. Next year, UNC will be hosting NASPA’s Dungy Leadership Institute and I am excited about serving as the on-site coordinator for this experience.
You’ve been quoted as saying, “Cheerleaders stay on the sidelines and hope you win; Champions get in the game and help you win.” How do you demonstrate your ability to be a champion?
I plan to use my current post to propel my passion for diversity and inclusion work. I aim to be a catalyst for change and advocate for implementing inclusive programming designed to accommodate differences in the contexts of learning and working, particularly in light of historical factors of disadvantage and marginalization. I hope to be a diversity champion whose value for equity supports the university’s institutional commitment to diversity and inclusion.
What does “diversity” mean to you?
Diversity, to me, means understanding, valuing, and appreciating everyone’s experience – all that they have to offer, all that they bring to the table, and the value that they possess.