April Showers Bring May Flowers and Hopefully Needed Clean Water for Global Neighbors

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A good spring rain shower waters the trees, boosts water in lakes, cleans the streets, and sometimes soothes the spirit.  In fact, in many places, spring is one of the most beautiful times of the year, as we behold flowers opening, lawns greening, and the  beauty of the Earth unfolding.  As a kid, on the rainy spring days, I remember being reminded by my parents not to frown on rainy days because, yes, “rain showers bring May flowers.”  This statement was usually followed by “we need the rain!”  Without a doubt, water is one of the most basic necessities for life on our shared planet.
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Even though most of us know the significance of rain and the need for water to sustain our lives, many of us still view rain as a gift from the sky that will keep on giving.   Awareness of the need to sustain this valuable resource often only correlates with drastic climatic or pollution conditions that force us to plan and change our behavior to maintain sustainability.  Some environmentalists affirm that we are using water much faster than it is replenished. Other scientists have sounded alarms that global warming is producing profound changes in water availability, quality, and access. Thus, it is not a surprise that in some places in the United States a rainy day is a much appreciated day!  Like with many other limited resources, some states and municipalities are planning ahead strategically to maintain vital water resources.
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 As the USDA drought monitor map illustrates, there are states experiencing significant drought conditions in America.  Some western states with desert climates such as California are already engaged in a debate about the future of protecting water supply. Thus, not surprisingly, there are significant portions of America that employ water strategists and consultants to ensure that there will be adequate water for the citizens in the region.  According to some researchers, it is unclear whether droughts in some of the western states and adjacent areas are a new phenomenon or part of a cyclical rotation. Yet, issues regarding clean water possessions have social and economic effects for all of us.   Some urban planners project that protracted droughts in some parts of the US can lead to economic imbalances, as companies elect to locate in more verdant states.
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As my daughter, a fledgling environmentalist, recently reminded us, there is a great deal of drought in our global community that is literally a matter of life or death.  Even with the scarcity of water and drought protocols, many of us in America take clean water for granted.  We are usually only inconvenienced by monitoring our consumption and employing our sprinkler system on alternative days.  Yet, even with these practices, we function with limited knowledge about how the lives of our neighbors around the world are affected by lack of clean water.  Maybe if we knew more, we would engage in broader positive social action about managing water better among the Earth’s global citizens.
Most of us know that drought conditions can be linked to quality of life in many global communities.  The Bill and Malinda Gates Foundation monitors drought conditions in various global communities and supports drought relief efforts and water sanitation services through generous donations.  According to their Foundation website, drought can be devastating, resulting in barren fields, malnourished families, and starvation for millions of global citizens.  Likewise, the lack of clean water kills. The website charitywater.org states that:

“Diseases from unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation kill more people every year than all forms of violence, including war. Children are especially vulnerable, as their bodies aren’t strong enough to fight diarrhea, dysentery and other illnesses.”

So what does this mean for most of us?  As we calibrate our sprinkler systems, and pause to admire our flowers and green lawns, let us be cognizant that for some of our neighbors, even though some may be far away–water is a matter of life and death.  Sustaining our natural resources is one of the most important efforts we can engage in to sustain global communities and the well-being of future generations. I have been convinced that access to clean water is a social and environmental justice issue.  Helping global neighbors attain an improved standard of living might be viewed as a form of effective diplomacy.

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 www.gatesfoundation.org

http://munchies.vice.com/articles/some-california-rice-farmers-would-rather-sell-water-than-plant-crops

 http://www.wired.com/2015/03/californias-run-water-act-now/

http://www.appalmad.org/slider/west-virginias-streams-are-in-trouble

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Learning for a Lifetime of Choices

Refined from President’s blog

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A little while ago, I had lunch with a childhood friend, Marlene.  We have been friends since we were both thirteen years old, and that has been decades ago. Our lifelong friendship began on the Southside of Chicago where we discovered personal commonalities, as we explored the public libraries together and devised many less intellectual adventurers.  On a Wednesday in November 2013,  we met in Union Station in Washington, D. C., and it was indeed a reunion of epic proportions.  Between the two of us there were four children–all with college degrees.    It was our prayer, and our spouses’ too, that we had prepared these talented young adults to lead responsible, worthwhile, and altruistic lives.

When we looked into each other’s faces, we bore witness to a half century of American societal forces that had shaped the lives, and choices of two women who grew-up with limited resources, but who dreamed of nearly endless possibilities.  My friend earned a MBA from a big ten university, and I earned a PhD from a top-ranked national university.  Besides the fact that both of us have done well, by American standards, we also gained so much more from our college experiences than the academic content and subsequent jobs.  The value of our higher education included exposure to options, consideration of diverse perspectives,  and development of skill sets beyond our imaginations.

As we seek to grapple with the finances surrounding colleges and universities, the debate about the value of colleges and universities has reached a louder pitch with proponents on all sides.   As states struggle with competing priorities for revenue, and the economic recovery continues, there is more concern about the value of a college education in relationship to the cost of attendance.  While nearly half of my college experience included the private and well-regarded University of Chicago, it still does seem possible for students to choose from a range of institutions which correlate, as closely as possible, with their family and financial support systems.

Now I know that from a lifelong learner and educator, much of what I think about the value of a college education could be discounted–since I liked learning so much–it did not occur to me to leave the college/university  structured community of learners.  However,  as my friend and I shared stories in Union Station, it also occurred to me how fortunate we have both been to have spent so much time learning from the perspectives of others,  and how our expanded worldviews had influenced the activities we engaged in with our children and probably the choices and lives of our children and their future grandchildren. It seems that an expanded worldview is in itself a legacy–possibly just as precious as an inheritance of a land estate.

Engaging in various structured classroom or hybrid learning experiences also seems to help build a sense of confidence in the learners.  Without a doubt this confidence can be gained from other experiences rather than a college experience, but the efficiency and sequencing of these experiences in a college environment might take years to acquire without the talented and caring professors serving as learning guides.

Thus, one value of colleges and universities, is that we offer options to assist learners enjoy a lifetime of choices and to leave a legacy of options.

The Road Less Traveled

Originally Blogged on May 15, 2014

I smile to myself when I reflect on the many unique, and sometimes painful, journeys that students have related to me over the years. It is extremely gratifying when students persisted and these divergent paths eventually led to transforming college experiences and college degrees.  
 
While  I cheer  those who succeeded, I have to ask—why have not more students chosen similar journeys to develop into critical thinkers, to gain confidence in their learning abilities, and to leave an institution of higher education as more confident and competent individuals ready to take their places as responsible citizens in the Commonwealth and America? Graduating students will not only contribute to the intellectual capital of the region, but they will eventually earn money to help their families, serve as role models, and maybe start a business and employ others.  
 
How can we encourage more young people to take the road less traveled into emerging fields of study in higher education that will respond to the needs of the region and America?
 
With this Blog, I ask that you, too, reflect upon this question with me—how can we muster whatever it takes, the political will, and the infrastructures needed to increase and amplify the intellectual capital in the region?   What can each individual do to maximize the outcomes in human capital that could possibly alter the America we live in and amplify the American dream for many?
 
Dr. Randal Pinkett, an extremely well-educated scholar who is viewed by some as one of the elite intellectuals of this century, and I discussed this briefly before Cheyney University’s 2014 Commencement.  We were both concerned that there appears to be a broadening economic and social gap that could be tearing at the social fabric (education, wealth, health, quality of life, and overall well-being) of our society. We believe that we (Americans) will each have to redouble our efforts to help young people see possibilities, believe in themselves, and gain the courage to venture forth.
 
As Dr. Randal Pinkett so aptly employed as a metaphor in his inspirational 2014 Commencement speech, it seems appropriate to end this Blog with the quote from Robert Frost’s poem, The Road Not Taken:
 
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence: 
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference. 
 
 
 
 

 

The Good News About Young Men of Color

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It might be helpful if we can acknowledge that we all view reality, relationships, and actions of others through lenses that have been constructed in early years and fortified over our lifetimes.   These perceptions can change, but for most of us, it will take a conscious effort to expand our worldviews and to understand the backgrounds, realities, and perspectives of others.

I feel fortunate to have had some very positive experiences with young men of color which included supportive relationships with a bi-racial boyfriend at age sixteen and a 29 year marriage to a very bright, caring, and supportive husband.  Through the years, however, it would have been hard not to notice that young men of color sometimes struggle when attempting to pursue the commercialized American dream.  Most of the time these struggles are cleverly disguised with body language that projects indifference, false confidence or hostility – masking feelings that run the gamut from fear to anger.

Fraternities and organizations such as the 100 Black Men of America have constructed positive mentoring programs to help guide young men into responsible adulthood and citizenship.  For years, I watched my husband construct a collegiate chapter of the 100 Black Men at a university, and I saw how this affiliation helped to transform, expose, and build confidence in young men as they experienced thousands of role models who cared about them and offered them opportunities to learn in supportive and safe environments.  Because of these and other experiences, many of these young men are now college graduates and contributing and responsible members of their communities–they are eager to give back.

I have personally witnessed many of these transformations and the development of intellectual and emotional human capital over the years.  Nonetheless, over these same years, I have noted that our view of young men of color has not been shared by many in our society.   I have seen people bristle at the size of some young men, comment on their tattoos, and lock their car doors when some young men of color simply walk through a parking lot.  As a women, I am frequently traveling by myself.  I also acknowledge that when I find myself in situations with young men of color I do not know, I have to consciously resist stereotyping them– without appropriate reasons.  Moreover, over the years as a college president, a faculty member, and an administrator in higher education, I have noted that many young men of color arrive at college carrying the baggage of society’s overt and covert unresolved issues  imposed on them because of the melatonin of their skin– as if there is, indeed, any correlation between melatonin and cognitive abilities, criminal intent, and/or moral tendencies.

In my various roles in higher education, I have made it a point to invite many young men on campus to stop me, look me in the eyes, and tell me about their future plans and dreams.  Many of these young men seemed amazed, sometimes uncomfortable, but they were also grateful that faculty and staff had confidence that they could learn and develop both cognitively and emotionally.   In fact, in most evaluations of faculty, students commented that faculty were caring and challenging – a combination that they did not see often in their former secondary environments.  These caring and reassuring faculty were a stark contrast to the verbal and non-verbal messages communicated to them in many other societal venues.

So, as we are drawn, once again, to a national conversation about race, look for best practices for expanding opportunities, and angst about how to enhance our collective well-being, I affirm, we know what to do–get to know these young men and act accordingly!  It occurs to me that we are all passengers in life in a lifeboat called Earth.   This lifeboat is not so large that one end of the boat can continue sailing unaffected when the rest of the boat is sinking,

In the words of Herman Melville, “We cannot live only for ourselves.  A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow man, and among these fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.”   Thus, it is very important that many more people on the lifeboat get to known young men of color and recognize that we are one, big human family.  Transformation will happen to these young men and you–when you treat them as you would a son, nephew, or treasured human resource!

Champions needed for the next generation of leaders

After serving as a college president for the last eight years, and a higher-education administrator for well over 30 years, I admit I have some serious concerns about the lack of apparent urgency we (our country) seem to evince regarding the need to develop a vast pool of human capital.   This broaden pool would have to include Americans of all affinities, not to mention racial, ethnic, and geographical diversities.   The recent immigration debates also leaves many unanswered questions about our forth-going vision of the country’s melting pot concept inscribed on a plaque near the Statue of Liberty:

Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,

Send these, the homeless, tempest tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

Granted when Emma Lazarus wrote this sonnet that contains the aforementioned, America was still very much in its infancy, and seemingly believed it needed able-bodied men and women to populate and experience “freedom” in a country occupied previously by Native Americans.

As a president, I spent most of my time interacting with the descendants of later generations of immigrants and descendants of slaves who arrive at college seeking the dream of a somewhat elusive freedom.  These students come to college to learn how to construct a life that resembles a plausible version of the “American Dream.”  Unfortunately, many of these college entrants have already faced a gauntlet of seemingly intractable problems including family backgrounds that cannot support college tuition, low academic expectations from secondary schools,  and underdeveloped communication competencies which add to their already burdensome lives.

From my many interactions with these students and their families, I know that they bring with them a desire for guidance, for structure, and for a fair chance.   These families rarely come for a handout.  They already know how some of the more-advantaged citizens view them– as a drain on the economy.   The dream and hopes they bring with them are that they will leave college and be able to build lives in which they can contribute to the economic stability, well-being, and intellectual capital of their communities, regions, and the nation.  Such a contribution brings with its an enhanced self-esteem that enriches future generations of their families.   For the rest of us their transformation and self-confidence augments our communities’ intellectual capital and societal well-being.

Thus, possibly I have missed it,  but I must ask with so many benefits where is our sense of urgency to invest in, and to support, our connected future?

Michelle Howard-Vital