Q&A With Ray Grant, The New Assistant Dean of First Generation & Bobcat First Programs

In early December of 2021, an email sent out by Josh McIntosh, the Vice President for Campus Life, officially announced and welcomed to the Bates community a new addition to The Office of Intercultural Education (OIE). Ray Grant was appointed as the new Assistant Dean for First Generation and Bobcat First Programs (B1st).

In the email, McIntosh states that “Ray brings more than 15 years of experience championing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) through student advising and advocacy, program development and student engagement.” The email also details Dr. Grant’s prior experience as the “Class Dean for First-Year Students and Programs” at Colby College and as “the Assistant Director of Advising and Mentoring Services” at DePaul University in Chicago. 

Dr. Ray Grant was willing to be interviewed and provide The Student with an insight into his previous experiences and new hopes for Bates. 

What are your responsibilities?

“My responsibilities include overseeing and curating the strategic creation for the Bobcat First Programs to cultivate trust and relationships with program participants. My job also entails partnering with students to best support their dreams. I plan to provide opportunities for academic experience, learning and development, both inside and outside of the classroom. I am adamant about creating a space where students can feel a sense of belonging and community as they go about their daily routine. Three areas of my responsibility that I want to emphasize are: 

  • Building relationships and partnerships with faculty, students, academic departments, support services and all the campus partners to cater to student needs. 
  • Developing, implementing and assessing co-curricular programs, workshops, events and activities to support student academics, as well as their professional and personal success. 
  • Educating students to take advantage of their liberal arts education while maximizing the uses of campus resources.”

How has your transition been so far? 

“I am fortunate to work in a supportive and creative environment, where I have colleagues that are welcoming and supportive of me and my ideas. My boss, Josh McIntosh, has especially given me the room to grow both professionally and personally since before I even arrived on campus. It’s been great, can’t complain.”

How do you like the weather here so far?

“This weather is great, that might sound crazy to others but I love the cold weather and the snow. I previously lived in New York and Chicago, and, in addition, I have traveled to Scandinavia many times during the winter, so I am used to the cold weather. However, I am still adjusting to the wind.”

Tell me about yourself, what do you want the Bates community to know about you? 

“I have been in higher education for 18 years, being heavily involved in student affairs and student support services. I also worked as an assistant director in a student support program for first-gen students. It was in this role that I really developed a passion for connecting and motivating first-gen students to reach their goals and dreams. I am also a first-generation college student myself. I have a Bachelor’s in Education & Economics, a Master’s in Urban Studies and a Doctorate in Education. My dissertation research centered around parental support for first-generation students. I was also a Junior chess champion when I was younger. Besides this, I love to cook and travel: I have visited many countries in Asia, Africa, Australia, South America, Europe and the Caribbean.

Also, I served as a registrar, where I handled lots of data. I mention this because I always had an interest in utilizing data, to promote student success and decision-making. My current role in B1st allows me to make that connection between date and student success & decision-making. 

The biggest thing I want the Bates community to know about me is that I am a huge advocate for students, and also I am an advocate for collaborating across campus. My philosophy, in a nutshell, encompasses building relationships and trust among students while teaching them life skills for success.”

What are your goals for the OIE space and resources? 

“Our primary goal here is to utilize the space for programs, workshops, events and activities to build a community and a sense of belonging among students. Our OIE staff already does a fantastic job of using the space for different cultural programming, like inviting all of campus and affinity groups to host events, but we always want to do more and use the feedback given to us to greater recognize and celebrate the identities of our students. With COVID-19 restrictions being lifted, we also plan to use the wonderful kitchen for events including community meals.”

I am sure you heard of the recent departures from the OIE and the overall students perspective on this, what are your thoughts?

“I have heard of the departures and I don’t have much to say other than I am excited to be here now because I remain committed to partnering with students, faculty and staff to build a successful program. Now more than ever, it is important to build a culture of trust and success where students are empowered to take advantage of their resources to thrive. Since arriving, I’ve spent most of my time engaging and chatting with students about their experiences and how I and the OIE can best support their goals. I understand that the recent departures created tension and mistrust not only among the OIE community but also in the Bates community. My only hope is that we can repair our community to be better than before. But that repair comes directly from the students, hearing them out about what didn’t work before and what exactly they need in terms of support. I view the unfortunate situation as a means to begin again, this time creating stability that can last.”

What is next for the Bobcat First program? What can we expect to change and remain the same? 

“My plan for the OIE is to re-engage the students with the program. In April, there is going to be a banquet to celebrate the end of the academic year. It will also be a time to celebrate our seniors and the Bobcat First Fellows, both for their student leadership at Bates and for holding the Bobcat First Program together while the turnover happened.

What the community can expect to stay the same is the OIE’s commitment to creating a program that supports the academic, professional and personal growth of students while also ensuring they feel a sense of community and belonging.

What the community can expect to change is the culture of mistrust, past program delivery and collaboration with students. The program now is going to be more accessible and collaborative for the students. I also understand that trust takes time, but I think with the new changes to the OIE and Bobcat First Program, we will begin to see a shift in student participation and attitudes. 

Early in the semester, I implemented surveys to learn about student experiences and what programs, events and workshops they would like to see, which was useful in planning and organizing events. Given the feedback from the surveys, I have curated a list of possibilities for the OIE. 

There is going to be new programming. We are gonna have a parent program to help parents learn about campus resources and how they can best support their first-gen loved ones. Other changes are going to include: scholarship and fellowship workshops to connect students to other resources, graduate and preparatory workshops to help students learn logistics about graduate school, visits to medical and law schools and a newsletter. 

We are gonna have an OIE newsletter. I am excited for this one because I see newsletters as a vehicle for student engagement and participation. Students can grow in their writing by participating in the newsletter, especially for English majors or just in general because you’re going to be writing for the rest of your life. We will include cultural enrichment opportunities, which will look like or include visits to museums, theaters and other sites of student interests. We also are going to have leadership opportunities; these will be student leaders or ambassadors for the Bobcat First Program. Their responsibilities will be more in tune with the program, recruitment and social media presence. Overall, we will have a focus on student voices and feedback; they will have a big imprint on some of the workshops and programs moving forward. 

All of these changes are meant to create multiple layers of support. Ultimately, since the program is for the students, I am only here to guide them and provide a vision but the students will have a voice in what they want the program to be. Students will guide the program while I help lead them. This is just the beginning of a long journey for the OIE, but we’ll get there. I am confident we will get there.”