A few months ago, the University of Arkansas Pine Bluff received the biggest donation in school history from Simmons Bank — a $2.5 million gift in support of upgrades to its athletics programs and facilities. No one could have guessed that the announcement would be just the beginning, and perhaps a footnote, in a summer of success for the Golden Lions community.
UAPB set a new standard in HBCU athletic philanthropy in cultivating the relationship with Simmons and securing a multi-million gift from the corporate partner. But in the weeks since the announcement, the school has quietly rolled out a number of headlines showcasing students earning research grants and competitive internships across the country in competitive fields.
Two graduates students earned $11,000 in funding from the National Board for Certified Counselors and Affiliates’ Minority Fellowship Program in addiction counseling. Global security conglomerate Northrop Grumman was recently profiled for its hiring of recent UAPB graduate Tikel Davis, and internship offers to several current UAPB students — around the same time that 10 UAPB students were announced as summer and fall internship recipients at General Motors.
In May, Physics graduate Bria Collier was accepted into the competitive Fisk University – Vanderbilt University ‘Masters to Ph.D.’ bridge program, and Mercedes Winfrey secured admission to the University of Central Florida’s optics and photonics graduate program.
A lot of HBCUs profile student and alumni successes, but these specific internships and graduate enrollment announcements are key for UAPB, a land-grant school with its academic and funding strength in agriculture, but which is clearly offering sound training in its social, natural and medical sciences programs.
And this training is being noticed by international companies and competitive domestic graduate schools.
Every HBCU has strength in one or some academic areas, and corporations are becoming more adept and discovering the secret powerhouses in HBCU communities. If you want a black engineer, most folks know to find one at North Carolina A&T, Morgan State, Prairie View A&M or Alabama A&M.
If you’re looking for a future physician or health sciences professional, go to Jackson State, Spelman or Howard. If you need great nurses or social workers, find them at Winston-Salem State, Fayetteville State, Clark Atlanta or Southern.
But these HBCUs and many others have areas of academic prowess which fly under the radar. This ‘best kept secret’ culture around some of our best programs puts the schools at a disadvantage in recruiting diverse students and attracting the corporate partnerships and public funding which can help the campuses at large to grow.
Alabama State University has a strong STEM profile, but also has among the best theatre arts programs among all HBCUs. Hampton University and Tougaloo University, also known for STEM preeminence, have historically powered regional impact in teacher training and education administration.
As online education grows and Ivy League and large state institutions offer more money to black students, HBCUs will face more pressure to show students career and wealth pathways. This means that deans, department chairpersons, and alumni have to be more strategic in recruiting, sharing news and successes, and attracting corporate partners to specific programs and not just schools at large.
Well-kept secrets in higher education are often the worst-funded programs providing support to the greatest community needs. Hats off to UAPB for breaking its own mold to expose the wide range of career opportunities available within its gates, for companies and schools eager to come in and to find new talent.