Multicultural liaison officers support students across colleges


Courtesy of the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs

Each college at Iowa State has a Multicultural Liaison Officer who focuses on diversity issues in the college. Left to right is: Monica Howard, Jordan Brooks, Carmen Flagge, Elizabeth Martinez-Podolsky, Christy Oxendine, LeQuetia Ancar and Brenda Thorbs-Weber.

Logan Metzger

The various colleges at Iowa State have many things similar when it comes to their structure and how they serve students, but one key member of their personnel that often goes unmentioned is the multicultural liaison officer (MLO).

According to the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences website, the multicultural liaison officer is an advocate and support network for domestic students who self-identify as African American, American Indian/Alaskan Native, Asian American, Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, Latina/o and/or multiracial. The multicultural liaison officer also provides leadership in the development, implementation and coordination of diversity and inclusion initiatives for students.

Some of a multicultural liaison officer’s main duties include working closely with students, staff, faculty, advisors and administrators in their colleges and throughout the university to support recruitment of underrepresented student populations, promote student retention, help students connect with key resources on campus, develop programs and initiatives that promote student success and engage students who are interested in learning more about diversity and inclusion.

“The MLOs were created in the late 90s by George Jackson, the director of Multicultural Student Affairs at the time,” said Elizabeth Martinez-Podolsky, the multicultural liaison officer for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “He wanted there to be a liaison person in each college that could also be supporting our multicultural student populations. The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences was the first college to receive an MLO.”

Martinez-Podolsky said the position was originally titled minority liaison officers before being changed to its current name. She said they are now looking to change the title to directors of multicultural student success (DMSS). Currently none of the multicultural liaison officers have changed their titles, but are hoping to in the near future.

“[The new title] conveys more of the work we do with students and it alleviates some of the energy of explaining what an MLO is,” Martinez-Podolsky said. “We feel that DMSS offers more of an explanation as to what our focus is on.”

Martinez-Podolsky said the majority of the work that is done by an MLO is a little bit of everything. From recruitment, all the way through graduation MLOs help students where they can, however they can.

“The majority of our work is on the retention level,” Martinez-Podolsky said. “This is where we are interacting with students one-on-one, helping them create professional plans whether it be graduate school, joining the service or going into a career. We also help with adds and drops or finding resources for them on campus outside of academics.”

Multicultural liaison officers also work heavily to get students into professional workplaces, whether through helping students apply to graduate schools, helping students to attend conferences or helping students with resumes and preparing for career fairs.

Martinez-Podolsky said she has greatly enjoyed her position due to being able to work closely with students and help them realize they are just as successful as their peers.

“Getting the opportunity to hear students’ stories and help them create connections has been great,” Martinez-Podolsky said. “Sometimes they have this clean-cut expectation of what success looks like but then they will say that they don’t have any of those things so they aren’t a good student. I’m thinking ‘What do you mean you don’t have experience? You told me you worked on your dad’s farm in Mexico over the summer, that’s a relevant experience. You just told me you are bilingual, talk about a skill!’”

To contact a multicultural liaison officer, go to the Multicultural Student Affairs website.