On the Job


Claiming His Seat at the Table

Thanks to his experiences at UWSP, Timothy Fair has found his true calling

Jeanne Nagle and Taylor Wszelaki ’16 | On the Job | February 2023

As a University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point undergrad, Timothy Fair ’10 had a specific career path in mind. The political science major had anticipated attending law school and, eventually, practicing corporate law. Apparently, though, life had other plans for him—namely, a rich and fulfilling career as a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) professional.

Somehow it seems fitting that a man named Fair would be drawn to a field that places a premium on impartiality and eschewing bias, not to mention the intrinsic value of each individual’s authentic self. 

“Diversity to me encompasses embracing and valuing the qualities and characteristics that make each of us unique,” says Fair. “I approach diversity and identity as broad and encompassing—allowing space for everyone’s identity to have a seat at the table.”

Recruited to attend UWSP out of high school in his native Milwaukee, Fair experienced culture shock when he arrived on the Point campus.  A perceived lack of diversity at the university made it difficult for him to attain a sense of belonging. He was actively working on transferring to another school when he was approached by Ron Strege, UWSP’s multicultural affairs director at the time. In a 2021 interview, Fair noted that Strege pointed him in the direction of “on-campus resources that would help me thrive, not just survive. He found opportunities for me to become a leader.”

Chief among those opportunities was Fair’s position as a diversity ambassador, working with underrepresented students in the Diversity Center and within the residence hall community. Fair developed courses, workshops and activities driven by DEI sensibilities, which allowed him to help others who found themselves in a situation similar to what he’d gone through as a first-year student.

“My knowledge of DEI was sparked during my time at UWSP,” he says. “I recognized early on in my undergraduate career that students who were engaged wholistically in their identities tended to be more engaged in their undergraduate experience.”

Fair’s interest and skills in DEI were reaffirmed and strengthened when he attended Mississippi State University, from which he received master’s and doctoral degrees in public policy and administration. As residence director at Mississippi State, he chaired the diversity and social justice committee for the Department of Housing. He later assumed the mantle of assistant director of diversity, equity and inclusion for the university’s Holmes Cultural Diversity Center. In this capacity, he instituted and guided programs aimed at helping international students adjust not only to college life, but to life in the United States as well. Celebrating these individuals’ native culture, and providing the means for sharing the same with other MSU students, also were part of the job.

By the time he left Mississippi State, Fair had developed a deep passion for the inherent “human element” involved in what he calls “embedding inclusive excellence throughout an organization.” Moving forward, he dedicated himself to a succession of DEI-centered positions at several well-respected higher education institutions, including Cornell University, Auburn University and Louisiana State University, the last at the LSU Health Sciences Center in New Orleans.

Although thoughts of practicing law may have gone by the wayside, the corporate setting imagined in Fair’s original career path has remained intact. At the start of 2022, he was named vice president for inclusion and diversity at Burlington Stores, Inc. 

“In my current role, I am responsible for implementing a comprehensive and coordinated diversity agenda throughout the organization, from the corporate offices to the merchandising and distribution centers,” he says.

Areas of focus include DEI education and awareness, leadership and workforce diversity strategy, supplier and vendor diversity and advising the organization’s leadership on inclusive strategies that are aimed at enhancing the recruitment and retention of the company’s 60,000 associates.

The transition from educational institutions to a Fortune 500 company was a welcome challenge. “For me, I’ve always been enamored at how DEI is embedded in a variety of contexts,” Fair says. “Moving from academia to the private sector helped to provide a new set of challenges and a change of pace.”

“It was clear to me while interviewing for the role at Burlington that I had an opportunity to work for a company that places a high value on threading DEI throughout the fabric of the organization, and that greatly appealed to me.” 

Timothy Fair Burlington Stores

While the landscape may have moved from academic to corporate, Fair’s commitment to DEI has not changed. Nor has his sense that equity and inclusivity are worth more than politically correct lip service. Just as equity and inclusion are vital components that lead to student achievement and well-being, so too are those principles important to the goals and success of businesses such as Burlington.

“Diversity is no longer merely a nice thing to do,” Fair says. “For organizations and institutions who are serious about their future, it’s the only thing to do.”