Building Black Professional Community Means Preparing Our Students First

November 15, 2012

By Dr. Gregory J. Vincent, printed in The Villager, Nov. 9, 2012

Last week the Austin American Statesman ran an article about the difficulty of recruiting and retaining Black professionals in Austin. It pointed out that many professionals come to Austin because of The University of Texas at Austin, but the African American student population at the university had grown by only 456 students from 2005-2011, with a total of 2,299 African American students in 2011, representing 4.5% of the total student population. Those numbers don’t tell the whole story.

UT Austin continues to recruit African American students and encourages the admission of all underrepresented students through its holistic admission review process. The university also puts significant resources behind recruiting and retaining a diverse faculty through the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement (DDCE) Thematic Hiring Initiative. The initiative not only works to recruit faculty who are diverse ethnically and intellectually, but also provides funding for graduate research assistants. By supporting and encouraging African American graduate students, we have been able to graduate a number of highly talented PhDs who have gone on to tenure track faculty positions at universities across the nation.  Among our peer public research institutions, UT Austin has one of the largest African American faculties. And because of our excellent African American faculty, a doctoral program in Black Studies was recently approved. This historic program is the first such doctoral program not only in the state, but in the South and Southwest.

Our black students at the university have the chance to be mentored by outstanding African American faculty and staff including DDCE’s Dr. Leonard N. Moore, Dr. Darren Kelly and Dr. James Brown. Dr. Moore has organized the African American Male Mentoring Initiative which is a collaboration with Sigma Pi Phi and Huston Tillotson University; Dr. Kelly coordinated one of the most successful mentoring programs in the nation at University of Virginia and Dr. Brown, who holds a doctorate in physics from Cornell, came to the DDCE Longhorn Center for Academic Excellence after a career with world reknown technology companies like 3M, Honeywell and Motorola.

Perhaps most importantly to the Austin community, UT Austin puts substantial resources behind preparing students who attend underserved high schools for college. We do this through a number of programs in the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement (DDCE).  The African American Men and Boys Harvest Foundation was the DDCE’s first community incubator project. Through our initial support, Mr. Michael Lofton and the team at AAMBHF were able to greatly expand programs that led to the creation of the innovative African American Youth Resources Center.

Other programs which support the Austin education pipeline include UT Outreach Austin and three programs which provide students dual high school and college credit—ChemBridge, SPURS (Students Partnering for Rhetoric Success) and Math Masters. These programs all help ensure African American students have access to the kinds of coursework and experiences that students in suburban schools have.

Patrick Patterson, the former principal at LBJ High School, is the executive director for UT Outreach Austin which serves 2,700 students at area high schools, helping to create a college-going environment.  Lanier, LBJ, Reagan and Travis high schools participate in the ChemBridge and Math Masters programs, allowing students the opportunity to earn college credit in chemistry and math while preparing them for college-level coursework.

We cannot develop a vibrant African American professional community without first providing solid educational experiences for our African American Pre-K-12 students, preparing them and expecting them to attend college.  We have many, many bright African American students in the Austin area but too few of them are prepared to attend a four-year college, let alone build a professional career. We owe it to our community and our children to expect, encourage and nurture them to advance to higher education. The University of Texas at Austin is doing just that.

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