April 19, 2021 | By: George Wright
LEXINGTON, Ky.

Dr. Mia Farrell, a Louisville native, started her journey at UK as an undergraduate student in 2006. Now, she is the assistant dean and director for diversity at the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. She has a rich background in extension services, human development and community leadership. Dr. Farrell also serves as the national president of MANRRS: Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences.

Can you tell me about your background?

I earned my B.A. in agricultural economics as an undergraduate student at UK. After graduation, I became a 4-H youth development educator in Hopkinsville, Ky. for three and a half years. During that time, I earned my master’s in human development leadership with a concentration in college student personnel. I was then promoted to human resource specialist for the UK Cooperative Extension Service in 2015, and I started working toward my EdD in P-20 community leadership with a concentration in agriculture at Murray State University, which I ultimately completed in 2019. During that time, I was the interim director for diversity in the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment for about a year. Then, in 2019, I was offered the role of assistant dean and director for diversity for the college.

Were you always interested in agriculture, food and environment?

When I first started at UK, I wanted to be a physical therapist. I was a football trainer when I attended DuPont Manual High School, and my parents were in the medical field. I was a first-generation college student, so all I knew about was the medical field, and I thought that was what I was passionate about. But I was in the Freshman Summer Program (FSP) in 2006 through CARES, and my current mentor, Dr. Quentin Tyler who is also my predecessor, came to our FSP to talk about the college and MANRRS (Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences).

At first, I was hesitant, but being in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment has truly changed my life. When I switched my major to agriculture economics, I had three internships and became very involved in MANRRS. I now serve as the National President of MANRRS, and I’m very passionate about it.

Can you talk more about MANRRS?

MANRRS is a national organization based out of Atlanta, Georgia. There are 65 chapters in 38 states, including Puerto Rico, and about 2,050 members. The focus is on making sure underrepresented students have access to opportunities such as internships and full-time positions, and we emphasize personal and professional development.

The University of Kentucky MANRRS chapter is the national seven-time Chapter of the Year. We fundraise, do community service and expose students to different companies and opportunities in the food, natural resource and related sciences space. MANRRS has been around for about 35 years and we have Junior MANRRS, which is for youth grades 7-12. This program has been a true recruitment and retention pipeline for our college because we’re able to go to different 4-H programs, schools and centers across the state.

MANRRS is an organization that is dear to my heart. It’s how I really started to develop my passions and figure out who I was. I gained mentors and the guidance I needed to be successful. I truly do pay a lot of respect to the organization, hence why I’m serving as the national president.

What does your day-to-day at the University of Kentucky look like?

As the assistant dean and director for diversity in the College of Agriculture, I oversee all DEI efforts for our faculty, students and staff here on campus, but through our cooperative extension service in all 120 counties. We want to bring awareness of DEI to our faculty, students and staff, and we do this through various webinars. One is called the Cultivating Inclusion Series, which focuses on different and diverse perspectives. Sessions include conversations about microaggressions, whiteness and what diversity, equity and inclusion mean. We work to build a toolbox of resources for our faculty, students and staff to increase understanding and awareness and to encourage them to have courageous conversations. The Cultivation of Inclusion Series has helped in that effort.

There is more of an awareness and emphasis on DEI for our faculty, so we recently appointed a DEI representative for each of our academic departments. Our goal is to meet bimonthly so we can discuss DEI efforts, and it will begin to permeate through all of our departments within our college. We say that it’s not just the job of the Office of Diversity—it’s everyone’s job. But the office is here to support and provide resources in any way we can.

What are some other DEI related opportunities from your college?

We recently launched our pilot DEI certificate program. There are 13 extension agents across the state going through a 9-month comprehensive program to learn about diversity, equity and inclusion, what DEI looks like in their community and how to recruit and retain diverse audiences to our committees, programs and other opportunities.

Can you talk about your role on the DEI Leadership Team?

It’s great to see that we have initiatives coming to fruition through the DEI project teams. As a member of the leadership team, it has been very promising to see that UK is moving the needle forward in our discussions and through these efforts. We are finally having these courageous conversations, and it’s very eye opening to hear different people's perspectives on the leadership team. We are coming together through shared goals to meet these respective initiatives.

I'm looking forward to seeing how we work and progress as a team and also as a university fully committed to diversity, equity and inclusion. A lot of times when situations like these arise, it’s easy to do things that just put a bandage on the problem. I feel like we've started to rip the bandage off.

What is something UK can accomplish within DEI that would point to progress?

Success for me would be from a representation angle. It’s important to have representation, but we also need to make sure they feel and know they belong. I would love to see more representation in the classroom from a student and a faculty standpoint, as well as intentional initiatives that encourage collaboration.

What does DEI mean to you?

To me, diversity, equity and inclusion is an understanding of different perspectives. It’s important to know that when different perspectives come to the table it's not about who’s right or wrong, or agreeing or disagreeing; it's about valuing different perspectives and understanding how we can work toward a common goal and have positive outcomes.

We have to look at things through an equitable lens, ensuring that we aren't negating the privileges that we have, but that we are leveraging those privileges to change the narrative of some people’s experiences. That can include our faculty, students, staff and community representatives, because our community is a part of our institution, too.

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