Advancing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Online Education: An Interview with Brandy Chamberlain

By Diandre Glover Thomas

Brandy ChamberlainIn a time when ensuring access to high-quality education is of utmost importance, it is truly inspiring to witness the exceptional efforts of Brandy Chamberlain and the Office of Online Learning team. Brandy Chamberlain, an Online Programs Recruiter, was honored with the prestigious 2023 Excellence in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusiveness in Marketing, Enrollment, and Student Success Award by UPCEA (The Online and Professional Education Association). This award exemplifies the transformative impact that committed individuals can have in the field of online education. In this interview, Brandy discusses her award and how the Online Learning team has implemented a focus on equity and inclusion in their work. Their dedication and innovative approaches serve as an example of progress and a model of equity in action within the academic community.


What inspired the Online Learning recruiting team to focus on attracting a more diverse student base and addressing topics of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)?  

When I joined the UofL Online team, I saw the opportunity to expand on the existing recruiting efforts and made it my goal to build a strategy that included virtual events focused on topics of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), student support and success, and inclusive access to university resources for all students, including under-represented, under-resourced, and historically excluded and marginalized groups.   

To achieve this goal I planned, coordinated, and delivered general purpose, non-programmatic info sessions that raised awareness of DEI and student support services, as well as academic resources for online students, and emphasizing paths to success for various student populations. The new strategy has had a noticeable impact, yielding superior results to previous efforts, with a record number of applications and enrollments for the Fall ‘22 and Fall ‘23 starts.   


Could you share the key strategies and initiatives that you and your team implemented to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in the university's online programs?   

To build our strategy, we collected and evaluated input from various stakeholders, to better understand prospective students’ preferences, questions, concerns and needs, barriers and challenges, and aspirations, at the individual and macro-group levels.  

Beyond availability of academic programs and course flexibility concerns, prospective students want to know how they will be supported as working adult professionals, whether single parents, active-duty service members, first generation, post-traditional students or differently abled, and seen as unique in their individuality, learning style, sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnicity and more. They want to know what resources are in place at the university to help them thrive as individuals and prepare them to make a positive impact in their professional field, communities, and the world. 


How did your team collect and evaluate input from various stakeholders to better understand the needs and aspirations of prospective students, especially those from underrepresented and marginalized groups?  

This initiative required access to and collaboration with other units and resources within the university. I reached out to all of our student support and academic success partners across campus to talk about the plan, engage in conversations and presenting them with the opportunity to share their expertise and relevant information in their specific areas. Many agreed enthusiastically to participate in virtual information sessions and that allowed us to better present these resources to the student populations who would need them the most.  

The strategy was also influenced by my experience. I completed my associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees all fully online while working in higher education. If that had not been the case, I would not have known what resources to seek when I needed assistance as a student. This drove me to present this initiative to leadership and other offices across the university and get buy-in for implementation. Everybody was incredibly supportive and helpful.  


What specific topics were covered in the DEI recruiting efforts via info sessions and events, and how did they benefit prospective students?  

Some sessions were customized for undergraduate versus graduate student to provide directly relevant and applicable information. Topics included: Becoming a DEI Change  Agent in the Workplace; Student Support Services & Academic Resources; Diversity, Entrepreneurship, Leadership, & Management; Social Justice & Advocacy; Soft Skills; Alumni Panel; Paths to Career Success - Career Services session for prospective Online Students; College Affordability for Under-resourced Students; Making College Work - Online Completer Degrees session for Parents of Undergraduate Students; and Returning to College – Online Completer degrees session for UofL Stop-out Students  

UofL has touted itself as an anti-racist university with a high value on DEI efforts and I wanted these sessions to be more valuable and bring in a more diverse student population. I looked at first-gen students and their needs, and what resources are available to them as online students (especially for those that need them the most).  

Local and national social justice movements around Breonna Taylor and George Floyd changed how we look at social justice and I wanted to show how our programs can affect change and the real-world issues we were facing at the time and going forward. 


Collaboration seems to be a key element of your strategy. Could you elaborate on how you engaged with internal departments, academic partners, and leaders to promote DEI in the curriculum and processes?  

In the planning and implementation phase, I collaborated with internal departments, units and specific academic partners and leaders, to engage with subject matter experts and connect them directly with prospective students through their participation at the virtual info sessions, showing how our university addresses the needs of our online students and expands access to resources.   

Our university partners’ involvement and passion for helping students, led to their departments and units working more intentionally toward integrating DEI and related topics into curriculum, processes, and strategic communications with their targeted audiences and existing students. 


The award submission mentioned varying event delivery times and formats. Can you share some insights into how you tailored your approach to accommodate diverse student schedules and increase engagement?  

Because I wanted to reach as broad of an audience as possible, I coordinated and delivered afternoon and evening sessions for the most in-demand topics to accommodate our diverse student population’s schedules and increase access to relevant information. To increase responsiveness, participation, and engagement, I worked to identify prospective students’ preferences for delivery mode, time of event hosting, and format. I worked with academic partners and teams to test various times for event delivery, including morning, lunch, early evening, late evening, alternating options and evaluating results, and adapting to best times appropriate for specific audiences and groups.  An example of responding to prospective students’ needs based on their group characteristics, is changing the previous military-connected info session delivery strategy, and moving from only one session per date to two sessions (afternoon and evening) to accommodate varying schedules and deployment status of our diverse military population. 


Feedback and surveys played a significant role in shaping your strategy. Can you share some examples of how you used post-event feedback to generate ideas and develop future specialized topics? 

Hearing from our prospective students after an event is perhaps the most valuable data in our planning. I used survey answers to identify what students enjoyed hearing about, and what topics they wanted delivered in future sessions. On expert panel sessions, registrants were able to submit questions to the panelists ahead of time -- that way, even if they could not attend the sessions live, they would get their questions answered and view the recording after the events ended. We also separated the sessions for undergraduate and graduate students since their needs and circumstances can be vastly different. 


What impact have your focused strategies had on attracting a diverse population?  

The general-purpose non-programmatic sessions that focused on DEI and student support and success topics have generated a record number of info session registrations and attendees, leading to increased applications for the academic years.  We measured success by looking at how many under-represented students registered/attended the sessions, and how many of them went on to apply and matriculate. We saw an incredibly significant conversion rate from registration to application amongst non-white ethnicities. 

Across all registrations, 50% of all applications and matriculations were from minority/non-white and/or under-resourced populations. Out of all self-identified minority event registrant groups, 59% of Black/African American, 89% of Hispanic/Latino, 50% Two or More Races, and 100% Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander went on to apply. 


How has the award from UPCEA affected you and the online learning team’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion in online education?  

Receiving this recognition for our efforts and success has empowered us to continue our work and be more strategic in planning our outreach as it relates to under-represented, under-resourced, and historically excluded populations. We know our process works, so now we plan to expand and complement currently addressed topics to further enhance access to education and help our students to successfully pursue their educational goals and dreams.  

The most rewarding part for me is to see that our efforts have truly made a difference to our prospective students from these populations. DEI is a passion of mine, and I genuinely believe education is the path to a more equitable culture, playing field and future for these marginalized populations.


Brandy Chamberlain and the team at the Office of Online Learning’s collective efforts have been instrumental in redefining the landscape of online education, fostering greater accessibility, equity, and inclusivity for all. The journey undertaken by Brandy and her fellow team members serve as a reminder of the importance of prioritizing diversity and inclusion in our educational institutions and its ability to empower students from all backgrounds to reach their educational goals.