Devon Isaacs, a clinical/counseling psychology doctoral student at Utah State University, has been named a 2021 K. Patricia Cross Future Leaders Awardee. Isaacs is one of only nine students nationwide to receive the award.
Presented by the Association of American Colleges & Universities, the award recognizes graduate students who show exemplary promise as future leaders of higher education and who are committed to academic innovation in the areas of equity, community engagement and teaching and learning. The award is given in honor of the work of K. Patricia Cross, professor emerita of higher education at the University of California-Berkeley.
"Devon embodies the purpose of the K. Patricia Cross Future Leaders Award," said Melissa Tehee, an assistant professor of psychology and director of the American Indian Support Project at USU. "I have worked closely with Devon for almost four years and her passion and ability to empower others has been apparent with every conversation."
As a minority student, Isaacs has had firsthand experience with the prejudice, stereotyping and erroneous assumptions held by many in the academic world. To address those systemic issues, Isaacs co-developed TEACH (Training for Educators Advancing Cultural competence in Higher education) with Tehee.
The training module began as a Canvas course developed for research mentors hosting Native American students in USU's Native American Summer Mentorship Program (NASMP), funded by a $1 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. It has grown into a training platform offered to all USU faculty and staff as well as K-12 educators serving Indigenous populations, from which the NASMP students are recruited. TEACH is aimed internally for faculty working with diverse students, but also more broadly as research in many disciplines at USU frequently involves field experiences on Indigenous lands. Likewise, staff with frequent student interaction like residential life or advising benefit from the training.
Isaacs has been working with the Office of Research to develop a shorter, introductory unit to cultural competence that will be offered to any research mentor at USU, recommended to incoming faculty and will hopefully encourage more faculty to go through the full TEACH course.
"Devon has emerged as a leader in the field of cultural competency training with the mentorship of Dr. Tehee and her work is already showing far-reaching and meaningful impacts," said Alexa Sand, associate vice president for research at USU, who nominated Isaacs. "The frequency with which she is asked to speak publicly on issues pertaining to Native health and youth demonstrate that she is already viewed as an authority and leader in her field."
Isaacs remains focused on addressing the challenges she still sees in higher education.
"I do not consider myself a person who seeks the spotlight, but I am grateful for recognition of student-led efforts at equity, community-engagement and innovative practices," Isaacs said. "The work to come will be harder, the criticisms sharper, and the divisions wider. We will need everyone to pitch in. It is a hard road that requires perseverance and resilience, but my struggles are now strengths that help me empower others."
Isaacs' work is in part funded by a competitive Presidential Doctoral Research Fellowship through Utah State and a Ford Predoctoral Fellowship, awarded by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine to support diversity in higher education.