Cal Poly Pomona recently hosted 37 participants from across the nation at the 19th Annual Leadership and Mentoring Institute (LMI) — a weeklong forum designed to develop and advance African American higher education leaders into senior-level positions.
The in-depth program brought together professionals aspiring to senior-level roles with higher education leaders for a week to address the unique and often complex challenges they may encounter as an administrator of color. Using collaborative leadership, the group split into small teams to develop strategies addressing various hot-button issues culminating in a simulated press conference. Topics included budget cuts, gender equity in sports, neo-nationalism, the return from COVID-19 and more.
Established in 2003, LMI is an annual program offered through the American Association of Blacks in Higher Education. In its 19 years, the program has served over 300 participants that most often started in assistant professor or other mid-level administrative positions. Over the years, more than 65 percent of participants have been promoted to senior leadership positions such as chief executive officers, chief financial officers, deans and other senior-level roles.
Barbara Johnson was part of the inaugural cohort — beginning her journey as an assistant professor of higher education and graduate coordinator — and later would return in 2009 to become the program’s director. Her work helps focus the program on changing the landscape of higher education — especially in places where there is still much work to be done.
“At predominantly white institutions, they often say there’s no one of color to move into senior leadership, so we began this program to prepare people of color for these positions,” Johnson said.
Southern U.S. institutions have traditionally hosted LMI; however, this year, Johnson knew she wanted to work with Cal Poly Pomona President Soraya M. Coley — a move that brought the program to the West Coast for its first time.
“The one thing you constantly hear about with the CSU, through Grad Initiative 2025 and more, is diversity. Dr. Coley’s national reputation as an innovator dedicated to closing equity gaps made Cal Poly Pomona the perfect place to host our forum.”
President Coley then reached out to each CSU president to invite them to nominate a faculty or mid-level administrator to attend LMI.
“I’m so pleased that Cal Poly Pomona is hosting this critical program, and I’m even more proud that we’re the first campus in the region to do so,” said President Coley. “Few priorities in higher education are more pressing than our work to foster diversity, equity and inclusion that underlies student success on our campuses. The Leadership and Mentoring Institute is at the forefront of this work.”
Coley nominated two CPP attendees, Brandon Tuck, director of admissions, and Janetta Dismuke, director of first year and transitions, to join the cohort.
“I attended LMI with an open mind and did not know there would be the possibility of creating lasting relationships with people. The faculty of LMI quickly reminded us that this is an institute, not a conference. Each day, we worked to grow as leaders and develop our brand in higher education. I left with a renewed spirit and hunger as I continue to move forward in my career,” Tuck said.
In conclusion, President Soraya M. Coley moderated “The Road to the Presidency,” a Q&A panel. In this session, CSU presidents Jane Conoley (Long Beach), Tomás Morales (San Bernardino), Thomas Parham (Dominguez Hills) and Framroze Virjee (Fullerton) shared highlights of their personal experiences and lessons learned over the years.
However, the end of this forum was just the beginning of the participant’s leadership journey, as attendees returned to their home institutions fully integrated into a network of support from professionals throughout the country.
Dismuke shared her excitement to kick off these new partnerships. “What I love the most about the LMI is that it’s just the start of a lifelong learning process. I have connected with 36 other LMI leaders in my cohort and will continue to stay connected to collaborate, support and develop one another through the years.”
Learn more about the Leadership and Mentoring Institute on their website.