Q&A with Teresa Curtis
Teresa Curtis began working for UW-Extension ten years ago as a state specialist focusing on emerging audiences in the former Wisconsin Nutrition Education Program (WNEP), now known as FoodWIse. Since then, Teresa has been involved in numerous efforts supporting inclusion and culturally-responsive programing, including creation of the mapping workshops for county colleagues. She recently took on the new role of Expanding Access and Engagement Specialist in the new Program Support Services unit. Her knowledge and experience on how to incorporate expanding access into various aspects of the program development process will greatly benefit colleagues across the state.
Below is an excerpt of a conversation between Teresa Curtis and Shelley King-Curry, Director of Diversity and Inclusion.
Tell us about your new role and goals.
TC: The primary focus of my new role is to assist the organization in developing and implementing programming efforts that are equitable and responsive to opportunities within communities. I will focus on specific needs around expanding access and relationship building with staff in counties, areas, and within institutes so that, as an organization, we are more effective in addressing social, racial, environmental, health, and economic disparities.
My goals are to help colleagues develop an equity and empowerment lens, then integrate expanding access and relationship building into all aspects of the program development process across all levels - individual, team, and institute. In order for our organization to move forward with developing equitable programming, it is important for us to have a foundation and a common language for understanding our own experiences, how we interact with and impact individuals and communities, and how we can build sustainable and authentic relationships. In addition to supporting the enhancement of foundational knowledge and language, I will also advise on policy and structures that will support our colleagues' efforts. This includes working with leadership to promote clear expectations.
How will you engage and support colleagues?
TC: I do my best to meet people where they are. This requires that I build trust and understanding, not tell people what to do. I am so lucky to be able to work with a truly amazing group of dedicated and hard-working colleagues, and I’m not sure they know how important their work is. I’ve had so many conversations with colleagues who are uncomfortable talking about their expanding access and relationship building efforts because they don’t think they are doing enough, or that they are not “doing it right.” I believe our colleagues are doing the best they can with the tools, guidance, and structures we have in place. So, with our more experienced colleagues, I guide them to recognize the value in their current efforts and support them through the process of planning next steps. With our newer colleagues, I walk it back a bit further and then zoom out to give them the big picture: what expanding access is and how cultivating the skills to expand access and build relationships begins with realizing and knowing their own attitudes, beliefs and values, and then expands to include interpersonal, organizational and societal levels. Working closely with colleagues has taught me that developing a multi-layered understanding and positive perception toward the people we are trying to reach ultimately results in gaining cultural humility and confidence for working across and within differences.
What can we expect to have happen with the Expanding Access Mapping Workshops?
TC: These will continue. We are planning to resume the foundational workshop in the fall for areas who have had significant turnover or who have not yet had the foundational workshop. The goal is to provide the workshops first to the counties or areas with civil rights reviews in 2020. In the past there was much success when we aligned the workshops with the civil rights reviews to help areas prepare. I am also developing a “next steps” workshop that will help areas prioritize and plan to reach audiences they aren’t currently reaching, and then design and implement educational approaches in partnership with communities. Translating community demographics, and other sources of information, that help educators foster a more nuanced understanding of populations in their area is something I love doing, and it’s necessary to evolve the process, build it out, and add companion pieces.
What more can be expect from you in your new role?
TC: I will continue to be available to support organization-wide efforts focused on equity, diversity and inclusion as I have in the past. Next is to work with the Civil Rights Leadership Team in providing content for upcoming online learning modules focused on efforts for meeting civil rights compliance. As for the rest – stay tuned! I’m exploring options for personal and team coaching. And, this is really exciting, the Expanding Access Team (myself and other colleagues in Program Support Services) will assemble a menu of options that will enable colleagues to better understand the context for programming, including the way individuals, communities, and organizations are shaped by the races, ethnicities, ages, languages, cultures, genders, abilities and other identities held.
Where do you live? Sturgeon Bay
Where did you grow up? Laredo, Texas
How many years have you been in Extension? Since January 1, 2001
Tell us about your role in Extension. I was the first Bilingual Nutrition Educator hired in Door and Kewaunee Counties.
What motivates you in your position? Reaching out to people that have no idea about what Extension is and how we can serve them, reaching people from other countries that are trying to thrive in Door and Kewaunee Counties.
What do you like most about being a member of the Latino Employees Resource Group (LERG)? Getting together to plan ideas to better serve our communities, to better their futures, and sharing ideas.
Do you have any unique or surprising fact about you that you'd like to share with us? After starting with UW-Extension as a bilingual nutrition educator, I got the idea that I should start a 4-H club with Latino children. Later, Home Community Education Club (HCE) started Nuestra Familia HCE Club in Kewaunee County 12 years ago and Door County Hispanics HCE Club 10 years ago. I am very proud of these people wanting to be a part of Extension. Also, I feel very blessed to belong to a group of great colleagues that do great work.
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