Conversations with Leaders: Joi Patterson
Decades before becoming Governors State University’s (GSU) Chief Diversity Officer (CDO), Dr. Joi Patterson never had dreams of teaching or working in education.
“I never thought becoming a teacher was something I could do,” says Patterson, a Chicago native, who didn’t encounter a minority teacher until graduate school.
Now with more than 25 years as both a teacher and an administrator under her belt, Patterson is playing a huge role in diversifying the field. When she isn’t making sure GSU’s 18 teacher licensure programs are compliant, co-hosting a podcast, or serving as the Director-at-Large for Kappa Delta Pi, she’s facilitating key equity initiatives geared toward putting more teachers of color in classrooms.
“GSU has given me a lot of opportunities to work on impactful projects and work with great partners,” she said. “One of our goals is to revise and transform our programming to help more students of color graduate. That could mean changing how and when courses are offered, to who teaches them.”
Patterson knows from experience that representation matters. In her formative years, she wanted to be like Julia from the 1970s sitcom, starring Diahann Carroll. She was so moved by the way Carroll, a Black woman, carried herself that she pursued and graduated with a degree in biology and chemistry, in hopes of following in the character’s footsteps.
“But by the time I got to clinicals, I found out that it was different from the glamorous tv show,” she says, chuckling. Nonetheless, she still pursued a career in chemistry, working as a research micropist isolating uranium and plutonium particles. In other words, “as far away from an educator as you can be,” she said.
As her role as a researcher came to an end, it freed her up to homeschool her kids and finish up a graduate degree at GSU. During that time of creating personalized curriculums for her little ones, her passion for education was born.
“Education found me through them,” she said. “How fast they learned inspired me. The learning process was amazing.”
From there, she went on to pour herself into the field, as shown through her decorated resume. Some of her previous roles have included vice-president of academic affairs/chief operating officer, director, department chair, associate professor, licensing advisor, accreditation reviewer/liaison, college professor, superintendent, principal, middle school bilingual science teacher, online instructor and liaison/reviewer for the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education and Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (NCATE/CAEP).
Recently, her focus has been on diversity equity and inclusion, such as putting more minority teachers in classrooms amid a statewide and nationwide shortage.
“There is a range of research that points to the value of racially and ethnically diverse teaching staff for all students, particularly students of color. Yet, even as the population of students in Illinois is becoming increasingly diverse, our teacher workforce is not,” she said, noting that over 50% of the state’s public school students are students of color while only 17% of teachers identify as people of color.
To address this, she and GSU’s Educator Preparation Provider, Diverse Advisory Council, work on strategies to eliminate barriers for teachers of color, increase access to degrees, in addition to attracting, retaining and graduating students of color into the teaching profession.
Out of those efforts has come the Para to Teacher Initiative, which allows paraprofessionals and teachers assistants earn a degree and a professional licensure while keeping their job with the support of a mentor.
“That initiative will allow people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to go back to school have a chance to do so,” Patterson said.
She’s also helped GSU’s licensure programs align new Culturally Responsive Leading and Teaching Standards into their curriculum that ensure students of all identities feel welcome and affirmed in their classes.
On top of that, she’s facilitated the Curricular Analytics Community cohort, which is the result of a partnership with the Gardner Institute. The goal is to increase retention, persistence, and completion for all GSU students. Over the summer, she and a team of GSU colleagues, including Provost Beverly Schneller, performed an analysis on the university’s programs to figure out how to eliminate barriers to retention and graduation. The cohort is hoping to implement some of those changes sometime next year.
She's looking forward to expanding on her diversity work on Oct. 17, when she officially steps into her new role as CDO and becomes a member of the President's Cabinet.