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Diversity legacy of Audrey Qualls lives on
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The 2012 recipients of the Audrey Qualls Commitment to Diversity Award—Jan Warren and Mitchell Kelly—both say that the award is extra special to them because of the woman it’s named after.
Qualls was on the University of Iowa College of Education faculty for 12 years. She was a contributing author of the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills and was known for her support of diverse students as well as for her candor. The award in her name is given to one College of Education faculty member and one staff person each year, based on student nominations.
Kelly, a clinical associate professor in educational psychology, remembers two key moments when Qualls inspired him. The first was when she asked him why he wasn’t on tenure track.
“I told her it was because I could never figure out statistics and didn’t feel confident in guiding Ph.D. candidates through their dissertation process. She looked at me and said, ‘Bull!'” Kelly remembers. “That conversation had such a powerful message—we can’t let students learn that helpless feeling that they can’t do something.”
The second was the summer before she passed away in 2002. Kelly was sitting with her on her porch swing talking about plans for the fall.
“Deep down I think she knew she wasn’t ever going to teach again. I said to her probably the riskiest thing I’ve ever asked somebody: ‘Do you have any regrets?’” Kelly recalls. “She said ‘Yeah, I do. I wish I had traveled more.’”
Kelly says the response surprised him at the time but continues to inspire him.
“Now whenever I’m asked to go somewhere, I hear Audrey’s voice,” he says.
She’s the reason he has now taken two groups of a dozen students to India as part of a winterim learning experience.
Mitch Kelly (left) and Jan Warren (right) receive their awards from Audrey Qualls' son, Maurice "Mo" Payne. Photo courtesy of Brian Douglas.
The Qualls award recognizes Kelly’s international work as well as his overall commitment to students and an interest in sharing his own diverse background of having grown up in deep poverty.
“You view the world differently and I want people to realize that everybody brings diversity to the room," he says, "and mine happens to be having lived in poverty."
Warren, the staff Qualls award winner, has worked at the College of Education for 17 years. She is an administrator for student programs at the Connie Belin and Jacqueline N. Blank International Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development. She says Qualls used to be a guest speaker in diversity programs she organized through the Belin-Blank Center.
Warren says one of her main passions is to fight the stereotype that gifted students are not diverse.
“The Iowa Talent Project works with underrepresented minorities to not only get to college, but to have them successfully graduate from the UI,” Warren says. “That program has been unbelievably successful. Audrey was a powerful role model for students in the diversity initiatives we have offered over the years.”
Thanks in part to Warren’s efforts, the program will welcome 20 diverse students this fall. Most will be the first generation in their family to earn a college degree.
Warren is also instrumental in recruiting international students and is on charter committees for Family Issues, Human Rights, and serves on the advisory board for the UI's Women’s Resource and Action Center and the Rape Victim Advocacy Program.
“One of my core beliefs is that we can make a difference, each one of us, wherever we work and whatever we do,” she says. “I may not be able to change the world, but I can change my little corner of it.”