National equity and inclusion expert to join USC Race and Equity Center

USC Rossier alumna Sumun Pendakur will lead executive education portfolio

By Ross Brenneman

Sumun L. Pendakur EdD ’11 is returning to USC Rossier to spearhead new efforts aimed at improving equity and inclusion within organizations.

The USC Race and Equity Center has hired Pendakur to be its first chief learning officer, the center announced Tuesday. Pendakur currently serves as associate dean for institutional diversity at Harvey Mudd College, in Claremont, Calif., and is that school’s co-chief diversity officer.

In her new role at USC, Pendakur will work alongside the center’s executive director Shaun R. Harper, who praised Pendakur’s credentials and called her “perfect” for the role.

“Sumi is an impressively experienced and deeply respected higher education leader—exactly the person we need to help other leaders develop the skills, mindsets and strategies required to transform institutions,” Harper said. “Sumi thoughtfully does her work with the courage and equity-mindedness we strive to develop among professionals who will participate in our USC Equity Institutes, summits and other executive education activities.”

As chief learning officer, Pendakur will lead three of the center’s signature activities:

  • USC Equity Institutes, a four-week virtual education series for higher education leaders, with modules that focus on strategic and responsive leadership for racial equity, talking comfortably about race, productively resolving racial tensions, understanding and closing equity gaps in assorted outcomes (e.g., student performance and faculty retention) and other related topics;
  • The USC Equity Summit Series, which brings leaders from education, government, corporate and other industries to the USC campus for 1-3 day conferences focused on various aspects of race and equity; and
  • Executive Education Experiences, weeklong institutes for leaders in various industries striving to improve equity within organizations.

“I am thrilled to join the center’s leadership team as we work to advance racial justice in higher education and other sectors,” Pendakur noted. “I am excited to come together with center colleagues, faculty affiliates and other partners in service of a vision of racial equity and liberation.”

Leaders of major higher education and student affairs professional associations around the United States hailed the experience Pendakur will bring to the role.

“Dr. Pendakur has established herself as a national leader in conversations pertaining to racial justice and equity on college campuses. She brings a passion and an intellect to her work that make her an outstanding addition to the center’s leadership team,” said Kevin Kruger, president of NASPA, an association comprised of more than 15,000 student affairs administrators from 25 countries.

“Dr. Pendakur is a high-quality professional and rising star who has earned national notoriety through her work as a chief diversity officer,” said Archie W. Ervin, vice president of institute diversity at Georgia Tech and president of the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education.

Pendakur’s reputation as a leader has been won through many years of work at multiple institutions. She has a seat on the president’s cabinet at Harvey Mudd College, and spent more than seven years working for USC Asian Pacific American Student Services, including five years as director. “Having Sumi return to USC is a significant win for the university, our center and the nation,” Harper added.

As a first-year undergraduate at Northwestern University, Pendakur participated in a three-day hunger strike that led to the formation of that school’s Asian American Studies program. She graduated from Northwestern with a double major in women’s studies and history, and holds an M.A. in higher education administration from the University of Michigan. She received the 2011 USC Rossier Dissertation of the Year Award for her study, The Search for Transformative Agents: The Counter-Institutional Positioning of Faculty and Staff at an Elite University.

She serves on the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education Board of Directors, keynotes and presents annually at national conferences and publishes extensively about a range of equity-related topics.

“Returning to USC feels like coming home. This is where I cultivated lifelong relationships, through my work and my scholarly pursuits,” Pendakur said. “I couldn’t be happier to bring my academic and on-the-ground professional experiences to this important new role at the USC Race and Equity Center.”

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