Everyone has a role to play in making their communities and the world a better place.
I was taught by my parents that we have a greater responsibility in our lives other than just ourselves. While I was successful in my business life, most of my success enriched myself and the company I worked for. It did not necessarily have the societal impact that I wanted to have.
At the annual conference of the National Black MBA Association (NBMBAA) in 1994, I had a conversation with a friend, in which I was discussing getting another master’s degree in international business; as I wanted to do work in North and West Africa. She introduced me to the idea of getting a Ph.D., as the degree was “totally portable.” It would allow me to teach or work anywhere in the world. She also let me know about The PhD Project.
The PhD Project was established in 1994 to increase the numbers of underrepresented minorities (Blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans) with Ph.D.s in business. The goal was that by changing the face of professors in schools of business that we could change the faces of those in corporate America. This was systemic change and it really appealed to me.
The idea of having the opportunity to engage with students and serve as a mentor enabled me to endure the rigors and sacrifices involved with getting my doctorate from The George Washington University. Not insignificantly, the support offered by The PhD Project and the network it afforded me allowed me to transition out of corporate America into the role of student and after six years; the role of professor.
When I joined academe, I became acutely aware that it is often overlooked how much your background and access to information influences your opportunities. There is so much I did not know when I first arrived on a university campus. I think back to those days and use them as a touchstone to think about first generation student success now at Linfield University, McMinnville, Oregon.
We have established a systemic approach to supporting these students and making sure they are successful. From the orientation program where we help set expectations for students and parents and issue “First Gen Promise” bracelets, which establishes our commitment to them and their commitment to Linfield, to our bi-monthly mentoring meetings conducted by faculty and staff, we systemically work to make sure our first generation students are successful.
At Linfield University we understand the need to prepare students to have successful careers, and our career services works with all students to be successful. However, we also believe that we have not done our job if all we focus on is career preparation. We strive to prepare well-educated citizens who can take on the bigger challenges of the world. Linfield’s foundation is in an interdisciplinary and multiple perspective education model. The world needs people who can think critically and engage in problem solving.
At this moment in time, more than ever, we need the kind of experiences and thinking that comes from having lived a life that may not have offered the benefits of a home with high socioeconomic status or the benefits of being well connected in society. When you are not part of those who have not necessarily fully benefited from the American dream then you must develop the knowledge, skills and abilities needed to make change.
Everyone who has engaged in great social change in our society took time to educate themselves. Frederick Douglas, W. E. B. DuBois, Booker T. Washington, Charles Richard Drew, Martin Luther King, Jr, Malcolm X and Barack Obama (to name a few), all engaged in educating themselves to take on the challenges of the times.
Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.” First Gen, students of color and all students have a role to play in making their communities, the U.S. and the world a better place.
Though it may seem odd, I think of my death often; not because I am morbid or afraid of death. I think of my death because it causes me to focus on how I live my life. The inscription I want on my tombstone is, “He made a positive difference in the lives of those he came in contact with.” This is the aspiration for my legacy, both personal and professional.