BOONE, N.C. — At Appalachian State University, faculty member Jamie Parson’s focus on diversity and inclusion is exhibited in her work to effect change for students from marginalized populations and, most recently, in a $75,000 grant from The Spencer Foundation. The grant will fund a Diversity and Inclusion Initiative that includes, among other components, a mentorship program.
Parson, an assistant professor in the Department of Finance, Banking and Insurance, has been fostering diversity and inclusion at App State for the better part of a decade. She leads the Walker College of Business’ Inclusive Excellence Team and serves as a member of the university’s Black Faculty and Staff Association.
She is also acting co-director of the Inclusive Excellence Team in Appalachian’s Center for Academic Excellence (CAE), which champions diversity as the intentional inclusion of all cultures, worldviews, gifts, talents, history and traditions.
Parson said creating an inclusive environment is particularly important for business students.
“The consumer is far less forgiving for culturally insensitive marketing, and employees expect culturally responsive and inclusive workplaces,” Parson said. “Therefore in today’s society, having strong diversity, equity and inclusion practices is a business imperative. As the Walker College of Business, we have a responsibility to provide students with transformational educational experiences that prepare them to be culturally competent business leaders.”
Opportunities to support diversity and inclusion
Parson said she has been active in the social justice and diversity and inclusion communities since she was a teenager. Her work in these areas within the Brantley Risk and Insurance Center (BRIC) began in the lead-up to Walker College’s annual career fair several years ago.
After several students confided in her they did not have professional dress clothes, Parson began conversations with her colleagues about how access to such clothes created barriers for students from low-income backgrounds. In response, Walker College faculty and BRIC board members donated funds to help students buy clothes for the career fair.
Parson said afterward, Walker College faculty and BRIC board members began to look at the entire risk management and insurance (RMI) major and BRIC through an inclusive lens.
In the years that followed, BRIC — which supports the RMI major and the employee benefits minor — has taken steps to identify and address barriers faced by its students. For instance, the center created Parson’s position as the diversity and inclusion coordinator. Other steps include the following:
- Creating scholarships designed to help offset living costs that can keep students from accepting or completing off-campus internships, and effectively advertising these scholarships.
- Hosting more diverse and inclusive subject matter experts, specifically as part of App State’s Gamma Iota Sigma (national insurance fraternity) speaker series.
- Creating a waiver system for Gamma Iota Sigma members, or prospective members, who are in financial hardship and unable to pay their dues.
Encouraging students to pursue careers in insurance
Parson will be using The Spencer Foundation grant to fund the Diversity and Inclusion Initiative — part of the Brantley Center’s Building Insurance Talent program.
This initiative — which Parson created alongside the center’s managing director, Dr. David Marlett — simultaneously addresses the dwindling numbers of qualified insurance professionals and the need for greater diversity in the industry.
“There is lots of research talking about the talent crisis in insurance,” Parson said, “and the insurance industry is deeply committed to recruiting, investing and developing diverse talent.”
The semesterlong program, which launched in fall 2020 with 10 students, is geared toward first-year, sophomore and transfer students from underrepresented populations and includes mentoring by industry professionals, a scholarship for specific App State courses, workshops, service projects and professional development opportunities.
Additional components of the program will debut in spring 2021.
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About the Department of Finance, Banking and Insurance
The Department of Finance, Banking and Insurance develops leaders for business, government and education by offering a Bachelor of Science in business administration in two specializations: finance and banking, and risk management and insurance. Learn more at https://finance.appstate.edu.
About the Brantley Risk and Insurance Center
The Brantley Risk and Insurance Center in Appalachian State University's Walker College of Business enhances the academic experience by providing space and staff to assist risk management and insurance majors with networking, job placement preparation and contact with faculty members outside the classroom. It provides students opportunities to participate in professional designation and licensing programs, and invites industry leaders to participate in classes and speak to student organizations. It also fosters research and faculty development, assists the insurance industry in the design and delivery of continuing education programs and helps educate the public about the insurance industry. Appalachian is designated a Global Center of Insurance Excellence by the International Insurance Society. Learn more at https://insurance.appstate.edu.
About the Walker College of Business
The Walker College of Business at Appalachian State University delivers transformational educational experiences that prepare and inspire students to be ethical, innovative and engaged business leaders who positively impact our community, both locally and globally. The college places emphasis on international experiences, sustainable business practices, entrepreneurial programs and real-world applications with industry. Enrolling approximately 3,000 undergraduates in 10 majors and 175 graduate students in three master's programs, the Walker College is accredited by AACSB International – the premier global accrediting body for schools of business. Learn more at https://business.appstate.edu.
About Appalachian State University
As the premier public undergraduate institution in the state of North Carolina, Appalachian State University prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The Appalachian Experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and to embrace diversity and difference. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Appalachian is one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System. Appalachian enrolls more than 20,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.