Ava Morton. (Photo courtesy of CSM)
LA PLATA, Md.—Diversity is not black and white. By definition, diversity is the condition of having or being composed of different elements or qualities. As individuals in this community we are already diverse, said Ava Morton, coordinator of the Diversity Institute at the College of Southern Maryland. We are diverse in race, gender, age, physical ability, education and economic status. But as a community we tend to separate ourselves into like categories. Its not that we dont like people who are different from ourselves; it is that we naturally tend to gravitate toward people who have shared backgrounds and experiences.
Mortons goal is that through providing opportunities for people of diverse backgrounds to gather together and talk, the institute can increase understanding and mutual respect in the community.
Ava has a background and a success rate of developing diversity programs in the corporate world that we saw as a good match for this office and this community, said CSM President Dr. Brad Gottfried, who added that CSMs vision for the institute is as a resource that provides enrichment through cultural activities, diversity training and leadership training.
Morton grew up in Bryans Road. In elementary school and middle school, Morton attended St. Marys Star of the Sea School and graduated from Henry E. Lackey High School. She attended Hampton University where she began her studies with human ecology or home economics with a focus on fashion merchandising.
I thought that when I left Southern Maryland to go to college I would never come back. I hoped for a career in fashion merchandising in New York City, said Morton, who added that when a job in New York didnt surface, she looked in the Metro D.C. region.
Morton started her professional career at Hechts department store as an executive trainee which led to positions as an associate buyer and a floor manager before transitioning to human resources and customer service training. My parents were both teachers, and I found that I loved the teaching part of my job, said Morton. She soon began taking her training on the road to Annapolis, Tysons Corner, Fair Oaks and Montgomery malls.
In 1990, when Morton saw that Hechts was opening a store in Waldorf she jumped at the chance to work closer to her family. She convinced executives that as a Charles County native, she would be able to advise the company as an insider. After living outside of Southern Maryland for many years, she returned to live on her familys homestead in a house her father built for her.
Following her work in retail human resources, Morton moved to communications giant MCI where she worked on Internet recruiting. When WorldCom bought MCI Morton began hearing the first mention of workforce diversity. Already involved in internship pipelines to bring in diverse sales, finance and technical talent, MCI/WorldCom looked to Morton to focus on new diversity initiatives for current employees and management. When Verizon bought MCI/WorldCom, the diversity programs and recruiting initiatives that Morton worked on were rolled into larger and more established programs at Verizon.
At the executive level, statistics showing a diverse workforce was a goal. But its about more than just hiring a diverse workforce, its about welcoming people, mentoring people and developing people, said Morton about the need to change corporate culture from the top down.
When Verizon moved its corporate headquarters to New Jersey, Morton did not follow. Instead she worked for the educational nonprofit the United Negro College Fund in its Special Programs Corporation (UNCFSP) where she focused on federal funded programs for minority serving institutions. Morton worked with UNCFSP as its human resources director supporting the program managers who were identifying and filling fellowships, experience exposure and mentoring for students and faculty at institutions such as NASA, Department of Education and Department of Justice.
Now at CSMs Diversity Institute, Morton is developing programs and events that engage the community and lead to greater understanding and appreciation of its differences.
From an early career that embraced fashion, Morton has woven her understanding of corporate and community culture, workforce training and her lifetime experiences into a career promoting diversity in her hometown.
Fashion is all about blending different shapes, colors and textures to make a beautiful garment. Diversity as a way to build a beautiful community is not so different, Morton said, and referenced Maya Angelous quote, We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal in value no matter what their color.
Source: College of Southern Maryland