ACUI Celebrates ’23 Closing the Gap Graduates: Empowering BIPOC Professionals in Student Affairs

Apply now as mentors and participants in the 2024 cohort

ACUI has announced 13 graduates of the 2023 Closing the Gap career advancement program cohort. Within the program, tailored for Black, Indigenous, and professionals of color (BIPOC) striving for senior leadership roles, participants and mentors convene in virtual sessions, personalized one-on-one engagements, and meaningful offline connections.

The 2023 graduating class included Tekeya Peterson (Morgan State University), Sam Lim (University of Pennsylvania), Chris Morgan (Coastal Carolina University), Shakaya Walcott (Davidson College), Linda Luk (Northwestern University), Christopher Hawkins (University of Iowa), Ashleigh Gordon (California State University Channel Islands), Marisol Garcia (Rutgers University), Lawrence Owens (Rutgers University), Bria Taylor (Virginia Commonwealth University), Bethany Banuelos (CSU Channel Islands), Saadah Osman (University of Westminster), and Ken Guan (Fuller Theological Seminary).

Closing the Gap applicants must meet criteria including being mid-level BIPOC professionals, being willing to engage in monthly mentorship meetings, actively participating in cohort gatherings, having ACUI volunteer experience, and attending the Annual Conference. This program is designed to unlock the full potential of one’s higher education career.

“Closing the Gap provided me with valuable networking opportunities, resources, and supportive mentorship experience,” participant Christopher Hawkins said. “Through Closing the Gap, I was also supported to attend the Aspiring Directors Institute. Participating in these programs has further enhanced my professional development and knowledge base. Everyone’s journey is unique, and it’s great to receive various perspectives as we navigate our higher education journey.”

Closing the Gap fosters the growth of mid-level professionals on their career ascent through curated cohorts chosen from a selective pool. ACUI aligns participants’ career goals with experienced supporters/mentors, providing invaluable experiences, networks, and perspectives.

The 2023 Program Supporters included André J. Adams, Director, A.D. Bruce Religion Center (University of Houston), Michael Coleman, Dean of Student Support (Wake Technical Community College), Jan Javinar, Director of Divisional Support (the University of Hawaii West Oahu), Yakima Melton, M.A., Director, Student Unions and Centers (Arizona State University), Neela Patel, Executive Director, Student Centers and Activities (Rutgers University), Corey Williamson, Executive Director (Kansas State University), and Edna Zambrano-Martinez, Student Unions Director (The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley).

Mentors in the Closing the Gap program commit 4-6 hours monthly from July to December, ensuring structured meetings, resource sharing, and active support for participant goals. Effective communication, inclusivity, and constructive feedback contribute to the program’s success. The mentors’ commitment to engagement, support, and feedback is pivotal for participants’ growth and success.

“Being a mentor for Closing the Gap allows me to give back to a profession in a very different way,” said Neela Patel, ACUI’s current president. “It has allowed me to connect and support the growth of colleagues through an amazing program that supports staff of color.”

The 2023 program focused on six areas: mentoring, career planning, leadership and supervisory skills, networking, navigating higher ed politics, and addressing imposter syndrome.

July explored “Authenticity as a Core Competency” with presenters Edna Zambrano and Andre Adams. August delved into “Confronting the Impostor Phenomenon” led by Dr. Kevin Cokley. September’s “Managing Up: Ask for What You Need” with Corey Williamson and Yakima Melton covered higher ed, leadership, and career planning. October focused on “Effectively Managing Organizational Politics” with Mike Coleman and Jan Javinar. November highlighted “Networking: Building Your Personal Advisory Board,” presented by Joanna Kemper. December’s “The Directors Cut: What You Need to Succeed” featured a panel focused on leadership and career planning.

2023 participants said the program granted them exposure to diverse perspectives — and that cultivating the ability to thrive in environments where individuals share a common passion but possess distinct viewpoints helped them become more well-rounded.

“This is vital work because it ensures that people from underrepresented backgrounds who seek guidance on how to take the next step in their careers may build a feeling of community with fellow participants and mentors who have traveled the same path  — while also giving them the opportunity to network and gain access to the resources they need to succeed,” said participant Chris Morgan.

The approach also helps supporters and mentors give back to their profession in a meaningful way.

“I am a supporter for Closing the Gap because I believe in its purpose,” said Yakima Melton.

“Spaces to be your authentic self with those who share similar journeys, challenges, and aspirations are important, and I’m happy to be a part of an initiative that provides this space for so many young professionals…Ultimately, I am a supporter because it allows me to ‘pay it forward’ and have an impact.”

Fellow supporter Jan Javinar agreed. “Offering service, insights, support, and empathetic ears to the upcoming leaders in our profession is paramount to ensuring intentional and quality college union administration as well as fostering personal, professional development for effective student affairs leadership,” Janivar said.

To participate in the 2024 Closing the Gap cohort, fill out our application. To join as a supervisor/mentor, fill out our supervisor support form. Even more information is available at


  • Christine Preusler

    Christine Preusler, Managing Editor at The Wyman Company in Gainesville, Florida, writes The Lead for ACUI's biweekly newsletter, The Bulletin. Christine uses more than 15 years of experience in publication management and a master’s in mass communications from the University of Florida to highlight the latest industry news and create thought-provoking content. Contact her via email ( with story ideas and announcements you'd like to see in the newsletter.

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