SEPTEMBER 18, 2015—Sitting in her freshly painted office in the Medical-Dental Building, Susan Cheng, EdLD, MPP, the new senior associate dean for diversity and inclusion at Georgetown University School of Medicine, reflected on the beginning of her career.
“I was a communications major in college,” said Cheng, who completed her undergraduate degree at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Connie Chung was a big role model for me at the time, and I thought I wanted to go into broadcast journalism.”
The tide turned when Cheng came to Washington for an internship at the Ad Council and, like so many others before her, “caught the public policy bug.”
“I wanted to solve social problems,” she said. “The bigger and hairier the problem, the more interesting it is to me.”
Cultivating Diverse Leadership
Since then, Cheng has worked for the DC public schools system, a multi-ethnic public policy non-profit in California, a national nonprofit venture philanthropy firm working to transform public education for low-income children and a startup that serves first-generation college students. She has a broad range of experiences, but the common thread that runs through all of them is her interest in cultivating leaders from underrepresented populations.
“I became interested in adult development while I was working for DC public schools,” said Cheng. “I was interested in how to professionally develop employees in the central office, and focused on recruiting and cultivating talent in our pipeline.”
The same was true of her job at the startup organization Beyond Z, now called Braven, which offers support to underrepresented college students as they complete their degrees and enter the workforce. Braven’s tagline is “our next generation of leaders will emerge from everywhere.”
“How do leaders emerge from everywhere? Well, you have to cultivate that. And you have to cultivate that early. So I worked on designing college leadership and career development programs that focused on that cultivation,” said Cheng.
Potential for Impact
Cheng began her role as senior associate dean in August 2015. One of the reasons she was drawn to Georgetown was the university’s commitment to cura personalis or care of the whole person.
“The idea that, as a doctor, you need to understand what background and culture your patient comes from in order to truly treat them and meet their needs, is so important,” she said. “The emphasis on cultural competency drew me to Georgetown.”
Cheng is also excited by the potential for impact within the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. Formerly known as the Office of Minority Student Development, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion has expanded its goals, according to Cheng.
“In the past, this office focused on diversity and inclusion in the student body. That is still an important focus, but we are expanding to include recruitment and retention of diverse faculty and staff,” she said.
Cheng is currently on a listening and learning tour, talking with internal and external stakeholders about innovative programs and initiatives that are successful in promoting diversity, while also looking for areas where improvements can be made.
“First, I want to celebrate our points of pride. I want to highlight what are we already doing well in our community in terms of diversity,” she said.
Cheng cites the Georgetown Experimental Medical Studies (GEMS) program, a post-baccalaureate program for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, as an example of a point of pride. “I am very excited to join Georgetown University School of Medicine and to develop our strategic mission for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion,” she said.
“A Harvard-trained educator, Susan brings energy, focus, leadership and vision for where we should move as a school,” said Stephen Ray Mitchell, MD, Dean for Medical Education. “She will stabilize the wonderful GEMS program approaching its 40th year, and challenge us moving forward.”
Leigh Ann Renzulli