University of St. Thomas to diversify Minnesota teaching profession

SOURCE: Tamarcus Brown/Unsplash
There is an obvious lack of ethnic diversity in the teaching profession.

By U2B Staff 

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The University of St. Thomas has been making strategic efforts to diversify Minnesota’s teaching community through key public-private partnerships. 

The Collaborative Urban and Greater Minnesota Educators of Color (CUGMEC) scholarship programme is an initiative in partnership with the state of Minnesota aimed at recruiting, supporting and retaining ethnic teachers of colour and teachers belonging to indigenous and underrepresented groups. 

This initiative has supported more than 465 participants to become licensed teachers and has been in existence for nearly 30 years. 


Meanwhile, another initiative called Grow Yor Own is a financial grant to enable eligible districts in Minnesota to develop programmes that increase the ethnic diversity of the teacher workforce. 

This enables schools to partner with St. Thomas, to grow their own talent pool of diverse teachers through residency programmes such as the St. Paul Public Schools Urban Teacher Residency Program, the Minneapolis Special Education Teacher Residency programme and the Work and Learn programme. The fund will allow schools to invest in professional development for people already working for them. 

“Through Grow your Own, there is a shared investment between the districts and the students,” said the University of St. Thomas Associate Professor in the School of Education’s Department of Special Education, Shelley Neilsen Gatti. 

 “The district invests in the student through the program, and the student invests in the district by making a commitment to teach in that district for at least three years, and hopefully longer.”

“There is a significant teacher shortage in our state, especially special education teachers and teachers of colour and indigenous teachers. This partnership impacts that shortage by preparing effective teachers for their districts. Last spring, the director of special education in one of the districts anticipated this would be the first year that they would start the year fully staffed with licensed special education teachers, due in part to the GYO program,” she added. 

These initiatives can hopefully play a major role in meeting the need for more teachers of colour in Minnesota. 

University of St. Thomas
Studies show teachers of varying ethnicities provide positive impact on students. Source: Santi Vedrí/Unsplash.

According to studies, the fact that more teachers of colour would provide a positive impact on students of colour isn’t something new. In fact, the American education system has always been in dire need of more ethnic diversity to fill teacher roles since the 1980s. 

According to the 2019 Biennial Minnesota Teacher Supply and Demand report, the percentage of teachers of colour has remained at four percent despite the increase in numbers of students of colour and indigenous students. 

“…95.7% of all public school teachers identifying as white, while 33.5% of students in Minnesota public schools are students of colour and indigenous students,” said the University of St. Thomas School of Education Dean Kathlene Holmes Campbell. 

“This statistic is important because recent studies say that African American students who had at least one African American teacher by third grade ‘were 13% more likely to enrol in college – and those who’d had two were 32% more likely.’ We believe that representation matters and children from all backgrounds benefit from having diverse teachers. This is why we’re committed to helping diversify the teaching profession.”


“When students of colour see me, there’s a trust and I can build a relationship with them,” said past recipient of the CUGMEC scholarship Martin Odima Jr. 

“There are students who have been challenging in the past who feel they don’t have someone they can trust. I can advocate for them, can speak for them to be in the classroom.”

“If we really want to advance and build success for our students in Minnesota, academically, socially and emotionally, we need to have programs like this,” he added.