Join guest host Jenny Whittington, URMIA’s executive director, as she interviews Courtney Davis Curtis, URMIA’s immediate past president and AVP of risk management and resilience planning at the University of Chicago, and Zelena Williams, risk management analyst at LSU, about their strong efforts to promote DEIB efforts, training, and opportunities at URMIA. Zelena also provides updates about URMIA’s Strategic Goal #4 Task Force and the group’s objectives for 2023. Courtney talks about URMIA’s newest community, the Professionals of Color Community, its kick-off meeting, and how this will help foster even deeper connections among URMIA members.
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Nakeschi Watkins, Director- Cornell University
Fitzroy Smith, Assistant Vice-President, Compliance, Safety & Enterprise Risk Management- American University
Courtney Davis Curtis, Assistant Vice President for Risk Management and Resilience Planning- University of Chicago
Zelena Williams, Risk Management Analyst- Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College
Jenny Whittington, Executive Director- URMIA
Jenny Whittington: Hey there. Thanks for tuning in to URMIA matters, a podcast about higher education, risk management and insurance. Let's get to it. Hi everyone and welcome to URMIA Matters. I'm Jenny Whittington, URMIA’s executive director and happy to be hosting another podcast. I have two wonderful guests with me today. One has been a podcast regular, and another is a newbie to the podcast world. Our newbie is Zelena Williams. She serves as the risk management analyst at LSU, and if you have not heard yet, LSU is home of the 2023 Women's NCAA Championship basketball team. Congratulations Zelena and tell us a little bit about yourself.
Zelena Williams: Hi Jenny and thanks for having us on this episode. As you said, my name is Zelena Williams and I'm a risk management analyst at LSU. And yes, we're very proud of our Lady Tigers. What brought me through this journey through URMIA, well, the leadership within our risk management office, they do a really good job to encourage the team to seek out trainings and support, to aid us as we grow in our roles as risk managers. Including participating in and utilizing URMIA resources to help us do our job. So, although I'm fairly new, I dove right into URMIA, attending my first conference in Seattle in 2021 and co-hosting the 2022 Southeastern Regional Conference in Atlanta, alongside the invaluable Chauncey Flagler last year. Last year I volunteered to support the URMIA Strategic Goal 4 Task Force, which was led by Courtney at the time. So naturally, I was involved with some conversations of how URMIA could develop more communities, programming, and educational resources to increase diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, awareness and practices among early members. And I appreciated the organized intention of equipping members with DEIB tools to make them more capable and well-rounded risk professionals at their institutions, I felt that I really could contribute.
Jenny Whittington: Wow, that is awesome. I’ve forgotten that Seattle was your first conference. I feel like I've known you for, for a decade, Zelena, well, maybe not a whole decade, but since the pandemic every, you know, time has, has really changed. So, Courtney, why don’t you share a little bit about your path to this important topic? Courtney Davis Curtis AVP of risk management and resilience planning at University of Chicago. She's URMIA's immediate past president. I want you to tell the audience hello. Tell us how you're enjoying spring, and I know you just got back from London. So, tell us a little bit about that too. Hi, Courtney.
Courtney David Curtis: Hi Jenny. It's so good to be chatting with you today and hello to the URMIA community. Uh, the weather here in Chicago on Good Friday is actually pretty sunny and I'll take any sunshine cause you know what they say April showers bring May flowers. So, hoping for, uh, no rain this week. Otherwise, egg hunt's gonna be a real disastrous, but you're right. I did just get back from our London market meetings, um, meeting with some of our medical malpractice and catastrophic excess insurers really from the entire marketplace. People from Bermuda came in Germany as well, and it's our first time since Covid being back on these international trips. And um, I would encourage anyone who has the ability to do it, to do so. Those conversations and meetings are really meaningful, and I do think they actually impact the outcome. Giving you an opportunity to present your story a little bit different and make you stand out other than the, you know, hundreds of other submissions and papers you’re seeing, and, uh, that opportunity to go back and forth, um, I, I think is, is really good for the overall business relationship as well.
Jenny Whittington: Yeah, I've definitely heard that over the years that, um, those, those meetings and that face-to-face time with those, those folks over in, in London is, is really, um, I mean I think it's good for you personally to get exposure to the other side of the world, but I mean, it really is a personal relationship and things like that really matter. So, I'm really happy that is back in, in our members' repertoire of travels. I love to hear about it when people are in London. I just spoke to Anita Ingram last week, who is also in London. I think you guys were almost there at the same time. Before we jump in, I want you to take a moment and share your journey with URMIA that has led to this conversation.
Courtney Davis Curtis: Yeah, absolutely. So, I've been involved with URMIA, really since day one, my 16 year now career first as a broker and then now as a risk manager. My claim to fame some years ago would have been a flash mob at our Portland Conference, but since joining the university and being an institutional member, I feel like I've just volunteered from day one and increase my activity involvement in the organization going from risk management 101 to more moderating and sessions and joining the board, then ultimately becoming the president. But you know, specific to DEIB, get really inspired to take more steps with intentionality following the George Floyd murder and really start to spearhead and look to make DEIB a part of earning a strategic goals and the path forward. We've come such a far away in those efforts.
Jenny Whittington: Absolutely, well, both of you. Thanks for sharing your stories and your passion. And Zelena, now I would love for you to share a bit more about our 2023 objectives related to URMIA’s strategic goal #4 on DEIB.
Zelena Williams: I sure can, Jenny. So, URMIA described strategic goal four as one to connect our actions to the long-standing values of our members that promote diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging within our community and the profession of higher education risk management. So, we clearly state diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging are critical to evolve our organization and profession. We are committed to taking intentional and affirmative steps as we progress into the future. Our task force is gearing up to make progress in all three of our objectives, all of which are based on the express needs of the URMIA community as they've been presented to us. So, the first is to expand the ability to identify and support talent of diverse backgrounds. To accomplish this, members are currently collaborating with other strategic task forces and URMIA members to guide the development of the risk management and Insurance Talent Network. This is going to serve as sort of a speaker's bureau so to speak. But it's going to be for the use of current and future URMIA members as they diversify the pool of potential speakers, presenters, and subject matter experts that they can tap for various reasons. So just say they want to present on a particular topic at a conference, but they need a co-presenter. They can use this RMI talent network essentially to find a co-presenter who, you know, ask them if they would like to participate and there you go, you have a co-host.
So, the second objective is to create informed community through DEIB- I'm sorry, to create informed communities through DEIB education. To accomplish this, we had a few efforts in the works, including integrating gender pronouns into the URMIA databases. And that is at the annual conference. Also, members of the task force are working to identify internal resources for DEIB education, training, and certification and make them accessible to URMIA members. Last but not least, I must mention our third objective, which facilitates opportunities for members of diverse backgrounds. So, this includes our ‘be the change’ scholarships and internship that Courtney spearheaded, the creation of our two scholarships are geared towards institutions serving underrepresented communities. The internship is an opportunity for a student of an underrepresented population to work with risk professionals at an URMIA member institutions. So, we recently expanded the umbrella of underrepresented populations to include institutions such as Asian American, Native American and Pacific Islander serving institutions, Hispanic serving institutions, historically black colleges and universities, or HBCU's tribal colleges and universities, and others. And all of this information can be accessed and applied to on our website. And by the way, they're now open and so you can actively apply. Just want to throw that in there.
Jenny Whittington: That's awesome. Well, thanks for sharing all that, Zelena. And I know the board and staff, we've set out a date to get some training on inclusivity, to kind of support this initiative as well. We're going to be doing that as a group next month and thanks for leading the effort on that. I'm looking forward to that training. I know Zelena intentionally left out one of the new initiatives and I'm going to ask Courtney to share the exciting news about our new company.
Courtney Davis Curtis: So, you know, URMIA is part of a large community. We have our communities for institutional members and affiliate members, but we have our first one that's focused on something more specific to the individual, akin to another one that we're doing with solo risk managers. But the one I I'm excited to share and talk about today is a professional of color community that really brings together URMIA members of diverse backgrounds who identify as being a person of color to come together and really support one another to have a brave space to convene and communicate with one another, to lift each other up, provide mentorship, and really ensure that this organization and our industry as a whole better reflects the diverse communities that we live in. And so, I'm really excited about what's to come for this new communities and how this may spark other communities or interest groups within the organization, not to say that it’ll ever compete or take away from the amazing activities and our other communities, it's just about fostering and identifying, you know, what makes us unique in bringing us together in those same regards.
Jenny Whittington: Yeah, I love that. And I know, you know, last year we spent a lot of time in strategic goal number one really trying to figure out cohort groups. And I know we're not using that term for the new community, but I mean I think there are so many different ways we can connect with each other as human beings. So, I mean, I think it's great that we found different ways of doing it rather than kind of the obvious ones by Athletic Conference, which is, you know, kind of I think all of our members have some peers that they benchmark against that you automatically think of, but these are just different groups that we can all think of, so I know there was recently a kickoff meeting for the professionals of color community and I would love to hear Zelena's thoughts on how it went.
Zelena Williams: Oh, thanks for asking. So, I felt like the energy in the room was exciting, to say the least, and it was really refreshing to listen to everyone's perspectives and to get a feel. For what diversity and the wealth of professional experience. And I want to say especially the camaraderie that the initial attendees will bring to this community and the activities, and I can certainly see this community growing and becoming an integral asset for future members and also to be able to bring all of the other communities within URMIA together because we have members on international, enterprise risk management, and you know other facets of risk management that can definitely bring in a lot of talent.
Jenny Whittington: So how about you, Courtney? Any thoughts on the kickoff call? I know you. You texted me and told me it was going really well, which I was thrilled to hear.
Courtney Davis Curtis: Honestly, it was probably one of my favorite conversations that I've had to date in the URMIA community, which is saying a lot. Cause I've had many. But something felt different and special about that convening. I think a lot of us reflected on the amazing conference that we just had in Indianapolis, and we were all kind of looking across the room and it just looked and appeared different. And we took an amazing photo of those individuals who identify as having a diverse background. And we knew something had to grow and develop, and this is really how this community kind of came about. So, I expected to join and see a lot of faces that I knew, but there was a lot of faces that I didn't know, some of which this was their first interaction and engagement with the organization. And so, for it to come by way of who they are as an individual and less about what they do, I thought that that was just a great welcome.
Every single person who was on that call introduced themselves, talked about their personal experience in this organization, and what they were looking to get out of it. And so much of it aligned. And it wasn't just about what we all needed. It was about what we could do for each other and the industry as a whole. And how you know, we want to reach one hand forward to pull ourselves forward, but also reach a hand back to pull others with us, and about how we can mentor and support the next generation of leaders coming in along with one another. And I thought that, that was powerful. We literally heard from every single person, whether they were in video, and the vast majority were or not, and it's certainly a moment that I will cherish and I feel that others as well. And I'm just glad that some people's first experience was coming in with like a perspective that the organization is diverse, and I know when, we had our annual conference in Boston, we were celebrating 50 years and we could look at pictures of the organization 50 years ago versus 25 years ago. And I just can't wait to see. I guess I'll still be working in about 25 years to see what it will look like then too. So, I felt inspired. I wanted to cry from the energy, but it was really moving, and I look forward to the things to come that we do virtually, but then also just to convene like family when we are all able to see each other in person too.
Jenny Whittington: Oh, that really does sound remarkable, and I'm also excited to see what else is to come. And I mean, kudos to you two for being part of this initiative and also Nakeschi Watkins and Fitzroy Smith, who are the leaders of the community. I just really thank you from the bottom of my heart to bring this to URMIA because it's just going to make URMIA a stronger community overall. So, with that in mind, I'd like to invite you both to share call to action to the URMIA community. What would you encourage our peers to do regarding DEIB to support being part of the change and why don't we go with you first, Zelena?
Zelena Williams: Sure, well, I'd say that I'd highly encourage our peers to be curious above everything, curious about whether or not you know enough about what DEIB means, not just in your role, but as you as an individual and also for your institutions, populations, and needs. Curious about what concerns and challenges your leadership may have from a DEIB perspective. And also, with those on the ground struggle with and how you can bridge that gap, so seeking training resources and knowing your team, knowing your colleagues to understand like how you all can bridge the gap or work together to bridge that gap if needed and essentially becoming that DEIB aware risk manager that makes a difference, because you yourself have that critical soft skill training that you know we know at this point is really, really necessary to help grow and expand our communities.
Jenny Whittington: Thank you. How about you, Courtney?
Courtney Davis Curtis: Yeah, I would echo everything Zelena said. She’s exactly, exactly right. It doesn't matter how you identify, how you see yourself. Just knowing that you can be part of the change with some real intentional steps to either educate yourself, educate others, to not be passive when you see things being wrong, to be allies to others, and just be mindful that diversity means so many things. And I'm sure in one way or the other that we all would identify as some realm of being diverse. So, think about what you can do in your personal life what you can do at your institution and what you can do for this association as well. I think we offer an effort many micro volunteer opportunities and at the end of the day just be a good human and I think that that will go far way for us all.
Jenny Whittington: Oh well said. Well, I want to extend my personal appreciation for this conversation, but most importantly for being part of the change. Thank you, Courtney and Zelena. Also, thanks to Fitzroy Smith and Nakeschi Watkins, unfortunately they couldn't be with us today, but they're doing important work for URMIA as well. Please check out the URMIA website for more on our strategic goals and the be the change scholarships and opportunities to join our communities. Also, feel free to reach out to the URMIA Home Office, as we are always happy to answer any of your questions. And this wraps another episode of URMIA matters.