Cookeville’s Most Influential People – Dr. Rob Owens
As Chief Diversity Officer for Tennessee Tech University’s Office of Diversity & Inclusion, Dr. Robert Owens serves the students who walk through his doors with empathy and a commitment to their brightest possible outcomes.
He beamed, “I’m passionate about students being as successful as they can be, no matter who they are or where they come from. This job gives the opportunity to do that from a broader, higher-level perspective. In this role, I get to work with the students that may fly under the radar.” Robert continued, “I’ve been able to be part of creating programs that I have personally seen help students, that otherwise might not have been given the chance to be as successful, exposing them to opportunities, to travel, to connection with alumni and career opportunities. We’ve been able to do some of those things during my time here and I’m thankful for that.”
Despite the challenges his position presents (which have intensified over the past few years), Dr. Rob sees this role as one worth all the obstacles, pains, and setbacks.
Robert stated, “Being a lead diversity and inclusion administrator on a college campus has become exponentially more difficult. The scope of my work has changed and it’s completely different than it was when I took the job.” He continued, “But one thing that I can say, on the days I want to quit, is that once I get to this campus in the morning and I’m able to meet with students that inspire me, I’m reminded why I’m doing the work that I’m doing. I just got out of class before meeting for this interview. I told my class, if I could be with you for four or five hours today, I would be that much happier.”
As a graduate of TTU (Industrial Engineering, Class of 1998), Dr. Rob admits to having days where he wonders what a career following his degree path would have looked like. However, living for the betterment of others, which both honors his faith and provides for his family, far outweighs the potential a more traditional path would have afforded.
“I have moments where I think about some of my engineering classmates who are literally millionaires and I wonder what that would be like and how different my family’s life would be had I chosen to go that direction instead of working in education.” He elaborated, “But again, I see my former students with their families, doing fantastic community work, and it’s just a reminder that I’m where I’m supposed to be.”
During the entirety of our interview, Robert only asked that one specific point be included. In my opinion, it’s the perfect ending to this feature and showcases the spirit with which Dr. Owens loves and lives.
“My wife and I planted a church in 2015 and part of the heart behind that was TTU students, particularly students of color. We’ve given our life to serving this campus. Even the congregation is made up of many TTU students.” He concluded, “None of anything I’ve done would be possible without my wife. Whatever accolades, doing this article, where I’ve served, everything, my wife Dana has been serving with me and I couldn’t have done any of it without her.”
– by Andrew Buckner, photos by Cris Stroud