Since assuming his new role as vice president for diversity and community engagement last July, Leonard Moore has already taken the first steps toward moving the DDCE into its next new era of innovation. We caught up with him to learn more about his vision and how he plans to leverage university resources to improve economic mobility for historically underserved students and community members.
Moving forward, what are your goals for the DDCE’s undergraduate programs?
For students, we have got to make sure that all of our initiatives and programs help drive economic mobility. In terms of our community-based initiatives, we’re asking: How can the DDCE help empower low-income communities? Historically, diversity offices have focused on recruiting, retention and multicultural programing. While these are valuable focal points, I believe it’s time to broaden our vision to become more effective.
What are some new developments that are already taking shape?
We have created two new areas in the DDCE: Inclusive Innovation and Entrepreneurship (led by Rubén Cantú) and the Community Integrated Healthcare Initiative. Both of these platforms will put us on the cutting edge of all that is going on in Austin in terms of wealth creation and innovative approaches to healthcare. These offices will ensure that some of Austin’s most vulnerable residents will be able to share in the region’s prosperity.
How does the focus on innovation play into community engagement?
I really believe UT understands the critical role it plays in the city of Austin. And what makes Austin unique is that we are the only major city in America with a declining African American population. We also are experiencing an economic boom. We just have to make sure everybody gets a cut of that. People talk in positive terms about technology boomtowns in California, but they don’t talk about how hundreds of thousands of low-income and working-class people have been pushed out of San Francisco and out of Oakland. From the outside looking in, it appears that some of the California universities could’ve done more to minimize the gentrification. I want UT to help redefine gentrification instead of being complicit in it.
Could you give an example of how you would approach this endeavor?
On the plane, I overheard a venture capitalist telling someone that money’s growing on trees in Austin. You talk to a lot of folks, and they say, “Show me that tree so I can get some of it.” The challenge is getting low-income residents to capitalize on the wealth that’s moving into this city. For instance, let’s say you have a small solopreneur, one guy who cuts lawns. How can we work with him to help him start a landscaping business? How do you help the woman who does nails in East Austin? How do you help her scale up to put two or three more stylists in the community so newcomers moving in can get their nails done? I’m not talking about trying to create seven- or eight-figure businesses. That’s beyond my level of expertise, and that’s beyond what the DDCE can do. But we can take some of these skilled people in low-income neighborhoods who have the determination, who have the drive.
How do your students help drive your ideas?
Teaching every fall semester keeps me grounded and helps me keep my finger on the pulse of the student body. Students’ needs are changing, and students are demanding change. I think it better positions the university if we know about the students’ concerns so we can address them before things bubble up and we have a controversy.
Where do you see the DDCE within the next few years?
I like to look at things in five-year increments. In 2023, I want to see that we have helped more underrepresented students enter Austin’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. We also need more students getting the global experiences they need to thrive in the job market. As for community engagement, we’ll be leveraging our resources to assist more nonprofits and low-income entrepreneurs in Austin. We’ll also focus on giving scholarships to residents in underserved communities so they can finish a vocational/trade school certification or an associate degree. These are all very straightforward, measurable goals.