Sonia Rucker, formerly an associate director of diversity and inclusion in the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, will return to Cornell next month as the associate vice president of the Department of Inclusion and Belonging and the staff representative on the Presidential Advisors on Diversity and Equity.
Rucker brings more than 20 years of experience in higher education, including in her most recent role as vice president of equity, access and behavioral health and the dean of students at Southeast Missouri State University (SEMO).
“I love Ithaca and I love Cornell,” Rucker said. “It feels really good to be able to come back to Cornell with all of this additional experience that I can apply from my time at Southeast Missouri.”
“We were very impressed by Sonia’s experience in leading diversity, inclusion and belonging efforts, as well as her deep understanding of Cornell,” said Mary Opperman, vice president and chief human resources officer. “We are truly fortunate that she is returning to lead and guide our efforts to advance a culture of true inclusion and belonging within which all employees can grow and thrive.”
In her six years at SEMO, Rucker advanced from her first role as the coordinator of institutional equity and diversity to become a member of the president’s executive team. In her first year, she was appointed to the President’s Task for Diversity Education, a group of students, faculty and staff tasked with devising strategies to strengthen diversity, creating opportunities for education, awareness, and racial healing, and enhancing the cultural competency of the university community in the wake of the protests following the shooting death of Michael Brown by a police officer in 2014. Rucker’s involvement with this work continued through implementation.
“The task force work was extremely important and at times, very emotional,” Rucker said, “Since that time, I have worked diligently to address some of the ongoing systemic issues related to diversity, equity, and inclusion at the SEMO and within the surrounding communities.”
Prior to moving to SEMO, Rucker worked at Cornell for nine years, including as associate director for counseling and community outreach in the Office of Minority Educational Affairs; as a crisis manager for the Dean of Students’ Office; and as associate director in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion for the Graduate School of Management (now the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management).
At the Johnson School, she recruited women and minorities for the highly competitive two-year fulltime MBA program; coordinated diversity and inclusion-related workshops, seminars, recruiting events and other programs; and served as primary liaison to the Associations of Black, LGBTQ+, Women, and Hispanic MBAs.
“Sonia brings extensive experience from her time at Cornell, and at Southeast Missouri, and I look forward to working together,” said Avery August, vice provost for academic affairs, and chair and faculty representative for the Presidential Advisors on Diversity and Equity. “Her experience will be very valuable as we continue to work to enhance belonging and inclusion for all here at Cornell.”
“In higher education, sometimes you look at the horizon and it doesn’t look like it’s changed. You must show that you’re making progress. And that’s often about being vigilant and communicating,” Rucker said. “But there is also always going to be work to do. It’s about how you treat people. I’m committed to creating a space where everyone is respected.”
Rucker will begin at Cornell on Oct. 18.
Ashley Fazio is director of communications for the Division of Human Resources.