Dr. Kimathi Choma was selected to be the interim assistant dean for diversity, recruitment and retention for the College of Arts & Sciences at K-State this spring. Though Choma comes from a veterinary medicine background, he is no novice to matters of diversity.
As interim assistant dean, Choma is responsible for increasing the recruitment and retention rates of diverse students.
A New Jersey native, Choma received his doctoral degree in Veterinary Medicine from K-State in 2007 and moved to Nebraska before being recruited back to K-State by the College of Veterinary Medicine to serve as director for the Master of Public Health program in 2008.
“I helped MPH students find their field experience, which is their culminating experience they do once they are right about to graduate,” Choma said.
Choma also worked as a recruiter for the veterinary medicine college for seven years. He recruited all students but he did so with a focus on racial diversity.
After working so closely with diversity in recruitment, Choma decided to apply for his current position.
The primary focus of Choma’s position is to increase the recruitment and retention rates of underrepresented minority and majority students in the College of Arts and Sciences.
“There’s a disparity between the two, the retention of underrepresented minority students and majority students,” Choma said. “First I want to close that gap.”
Choma seeks to increase the six-year graduation rate for all students from 53 percent towards the college’s goal of 70 percent. He said the mentorship of graduate assistants and students is one of the ways to reach that goal.
“Retaining diverse students is a part of retaining all students because they intermingle,” Choma said. “I also promote diversity. I do that by putting people first — valuing people, valuing how people self-identify. I think you have the right to say, ‘I’m African American,’ or ‘I’m of LGBTQ status.’ I believe we have to create an opportunity for all students — all people, really — to excel.”
Choma said It’s about celebrating a spirit of inclusion and equality at K-State.
According to some students, that feeling of inclusion is something that could make a big difference.
“The retention rate is a problem,” Darius Ford, sophomore in sociology, said. “With my experience, I feel like professors really don’t care as much as they should. Especially being a minority in a predominantly white institution, I feel like my professors really don’t go the extra yard to help me succeed.”
Ford said he feels as though this lack of support is to blame for the low, four to six year graduation rate.
Ford said African Americans make up a small portion of the population compared to more than 18,000 white students at K-State. Ford said he believes the low graduation for African American students at K-State is a problem.
If Choma’s plan for celebrating inclusion and equality is successful, it may make a difference in making every organization feel equally supported.
Choma said one approach to removing barriers is to build alliances around people’s non-visual commonalities. For instance, some students may feel as though international students and American students don’t converse with one another.
“Once we sit down and find things that we have in common — no matter who we are — then we can interact more and break down some of those perceived barriers,” Choma said. “So recognize we are different on the outside, but find ways you’re alike on the inside.”
Only time will tell if Choma’s plans for increasing retention rates will succeed, but so far, it seems the majority of his goals directly align with that of the needs and wants of some minority students.
“We’re breaking down barriers to success and we’re helping all students to feel this sense of inclusion, of ‘I belong here,'” Choma said.