Home Pages and Social Media- Tools that help Students with College Choices

Recently, my husband and I were asked to review the communication strategies of a liberal arts college in the Southeast. In addition to our joint experiences and expertise which covered a range of marketing materials–view books, webpages, social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, etc.)–we also engaged in research on communication strategies for a range of institutions from Ivy League to small liberal arts colleges. social_media_iconFlower-01

Admittedly, we did not engage in focus groups or conduct extensive surveys with prospective students–that would come later to refine strategies for the specific college. We did, however, seek feedback from some recent college graduates and prospective students about the slogans, looks, and feel of selected college websites, and the general capability of most colleges to convincingly answer that critical question, “Why come here?” through their virtual open doors–their websites’ home pages.

What we learned was not surprising, but it reinforced our theory that adept design of the home page and employment of the growing multitude of social media connections have become extremely important in attracting and engaging students who regularly use social media, and who would benefit from learning about the unique college experiences and resources of a specific institution.

It was also obvious that some colleges constructed their home page for audiences other than the media saturated prospective students (i.e. with a great deal of text for students to read). Other institutions employed home pages as opportunities for students to explore how they could fit into college life–with skillful, vibrant photography, and easily visible links to various resources and social media sites. These institutions allow students to read comments of other students, to ask questions, and to use the portal as a window to observe college life, by skillfully placed links to photos and videos, depicting a range of students and faculty participating in campus and community life.

So, why is all of this important? As a nation, we seem to have reached a consensus that we must increase the number of students who complete a quality college education so that we will stay competitive in a world quickly evolving through the adaptation of technology, just-in-time learning, and innovations in the workplace that have already exceeded projections of some futurists (Remember the cinematic prediction from the movie, “Back to the Future?). Moreover, most colleges have distinct niches, cultures, and characteristics that will be a better fit for some students than others. It is through the college home page that prospective students and families will make decisions whether to visit the campus and whether the curricular/co-curricular experiences are likely to lead to a fulfilling and empowering liberal arts/professional education and/or a solid foundation for advanced study and lifelong learning.

Some of the recent graduates we asked about home pages noted that the brands/slogans seemed to be a call to action like: “Reach Within…Shape the future” and “Become yourself…Change the World.”

These slogans appeared to be more exciting and attractive than the standard claims of excellence, tradition, or a focus on famous graduates from years gone by. Another observation was that the strategic design of a home page portal to attract students who are good fits for a college is a highly cost-effective technique for attracting students. YouTube videos and testimonials from students through homepage links can also level the playing field for smaller colleges with quality learning environments, but smaller advertising budgets.  When coupled with College Board data, visits led by student ambassadors, constant email updates or news feeds, easily accessible college applications, and the demonstrated promise of their slogans, smaller colleges struggling to attract students might be pleasantly surprised about the power of a well-planned, stimulating homepage with appealing social media windows.

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Happy Fourth of July: “May God Continue to Shed His Grace on the United States of America”

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This year’s celebration of the 4th of July Declaration of Independence, furnishes another opportunity for profound reflection on the tenets undergirding our still evolving union–The United States of America.  As we know, the July 4, 1776 Declaration states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”  As most of us are also aware, as a nation, we are still moving towards a more perfect union which insures the aforementioned rights and opportunities for all people.

Moreover, as we celebrate this 4th of July, it is hard to ignore the disturbing spring and summer 2015 events of American-against-American violence–exposing prominent rips in our national social fabric.

Sometimes in summer, the extreme temperatures seem to correlate with intensified human emotions and lack of tolerance for dissonance.  This year, with the early spring violence in Baltimore and public reactions in other American cities, it is painfully obvious that many American citizens perceive an unevenness in quality of life and truncated opportunities in their pursuits of the American Dream.  It seems also obvious that many citizens are growing impatient, as they seek relief in their lives from economic downturns, diminishing hope, housing foreclosures, stagnant wages, and limited future options.

And, though it was hard to anticipate, in June of 2015, a tenuous national climate deteriorated further with the killing of nine human beings attending a Bible study class at the historic Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.  Lesser acts of violence and hatred have thrown communities across the nation into deepening divides.

In fact, I originally thought about writing a blog about the ramifications of distrust and hopelessness–as illustrated in the Baltimore riots.  That blog would have been about how our fears and prejudices destroy lives and curtail economic development.

However, President Obama’s June 26, 2015 eulogy for the Honorable Reverend Clementa Pinckney left me contemplating the concept of grace, and how we can earn and spread such grace to strengthen our nation.

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If there was ever a time for a President of the United States to summon a higher and evolving vision of the future of our collective America that demands deeds similar to those of the Reverend and public servant Clementa Pinckney, this was it.  President Obama, in his eulogy for Reverend Clementa Pinckney empathized with the congregation before him, held the well-being of America close to his heart, and delivered a sermon of hope–a call for us to seek a collective salvation to turn an egregious violent act into “thoughtful introspection and self-examination.

President Obama shared with the congregation of Mother Emanuel that he had been reflecting on the concept of grace the week before the eulogy.  We, too, can note that the concept of grace appears sufficiently in writings and dialogue that predate the independence of America and coincide with our developing sense of an American union.

For example,

Greek Philosopher Aristotle stated that, “The ideal man bears the accidents of life with dignity and grace, making the best of circumstances,”

Father of Humanism Petrarch stated that “Love is the crowning grace of humanity, the holiest right of the soul, the golden link which binds us to duty and truth….”

Saint Francis of Assisi stated, “Above all the grace and the gifts that Christ gives is that of overcoming self.”

Texas preacher Max Lucado states, “The meaning of life. The wasted years of life.  The poor choices of life.  God answers the mess of life with one word: ‘grace.’

In his eulogy, President Obama affirmed that “As a nation, out of this terrible tragedy, God has visited grace on us, for he has allowed us to see where we have been blind.  He has given us the chance, where we’ve been lost, to find our best selves.  We may not have earned it, this grace, with our rancor and complacency, and short-sightedness and fear of each other–but we got it all the same.  He gave it to us anyway…But it is up to us now to make the most of it, to receive it with gratitude, and to prove ourselves worthy of it.”

As the crowd, and probably millions of viewers, reflected on this much-needed eulogy, President Obama concluded his remarks by stating that the heinous act of the deaths has left us with a “reservoir of goodness–an open heart.”  Moreover, if we Americans “can tap that grace, everything can change.”  Such is our challenge this 4th of July.

President Obama concluded his eulogy by singing Amazing Grace published by John Newton in 1779, just a few years after the Declaration of Independence in 1776.  The Mother Emanuel congregation joined President Obama in singing the song that many of us know well.  Perhaps we will now sing it with somber and renewed awareness.

“Amazing grace!  How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.”

Before walking away from the podium, President Obama proclaimed, “May God continue to shed His grace on the United States of America.”

Amen!  And thank you President Barack Obama!  Happy 4th of July!

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Commencing for a Better America

commencement2013_729_293_725_291_720_289_710_285 It has been a tough year in many places in America–from the weather, political histrionics, financial losses, civil unrest, and tragic deaths.  We have been throttled by tornadoes, snowstorms, flooding, searing heat, droughts, and icy roads.  Political gridlocks have left us less than optimistic about the effectiveness of our government to improve the quality of life and potential of Americans and future generations.

Yet, as we enter commencement season at thousands of higher education institutions around the nation, there is a sense of cautious hope for our collective American futures.  As my husband and I, together with other family members, prepare to travel to Vermont, which is apparently just beginning to thaw out from the distinction of accumulating the most snowfall in 2015 in the Continental US, for our daughter’s commencement from Law School, we will be joining a small, but significant number of families who will be traveling to also applaud accomplishments of children, grandchildren, and relatives.  Like the other families who will gather to witness these commencements, we will share a sense of pride, relief, and optimism about the contributions these graduates can make to positive social action, to more effective governments, to numerous industries and agencies, and to global communities.

Even though I have attended more higher education commencements than I care to admit, I remember mostly the commencements of Winston-Salem State University and Cheyney University.  While the speakers and acknowledgements of my own commencements and those of my siblings have faded from my memory, the looks of elation, hope, and jubilation of the graduates of these two institutions seem to be permanently etched in my brain and my heart.IMG_0480

As I walked down the aisle with Reverend Jesse Jackson, Sr. at one commencement at Cheyney University, I watched the beaming faces of the families of those in attendance.  With a little over 250 students graduating, there were over 3,000 parents, family, friends, and well-wishers cheering the graduates on to commencing a new life of opportunities.  These family members filled the Historic Quad of Cheyney University and celebrated with the exuberance and intensity seen at joyful family reunions.

As the Honorable Reverend Jesse Jackson walked in the commencement ceremonial march, parents, family members, and significant others thanked him for participating in this significant event in the lives of their loved ones. And, of course, Reverend Jesse Jackson did not disappoint in his graduation address.  Moreover, as an added bonus, actor and musician Terrence Howard also participated in the same commencement activities and gave remarks, much to the positive approval of the graduating students and their guests.

This and other such commencements warmed my heart.  I understood the sacrifices of money and the hopes for a better life tied to these graduates.  My husband and I carry similar hopes and dreams for our daughter, but our sacrifices pale in comparison to those made by first generation parents and families.  We believe our daughter’s and significant numbers of other proud graduates’ accomplishments will prepare them to commence or begin to make the world a better place for us all–and it does not get much better than that in America!

So, to all who are graduating, Congratulations on your impressive accomplishments!

Graduates, we need your innovations, your contributions to global sustainability, your fresh insights, team work, and new ideas to strengthen America!

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Let Us Give Our Families the Gift of Tolerance For The Holiday Season

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Happy Holidays!
We say that phrase often during this time of the year.

Many of us attend, with our families, churches, synagogues, mosques, and other “places of worship” during the Holiday Season. Visiting these places of worship is a good thing, I guess–if it is more than a ritual or another box to check because we have been told we are supposed to do such.

Holiday Season 2014, many of us notice an undeniable undercurrent of unrest and intolerance in America, and other places of the world. Peace and civil discourse seem to be eroding, and some citizens believe they must take to the streets to be heard, acknowledged, and understood. Whether we are watching protests marches, vitriolic political campaigns, the frenzy over Ebola, viewing violent acts around the world, or interacting with persons in our community–one thing is sure–we need the gift of understanding and tolerance in our communities, cities, in America, and in many places in the world.

Like most fundamental orientations, the gift of tolerance probably begins in the smaller units of “family worlds”–in the conversations that parents have with their children and the examples they set when interacting with people who seem to be different from them.

From my perspective, there are at least a few basic essentials needed for giving the lifelong gift of tolerance that can be taught in our family worlds:

• Expanding the family’s knowledge base about other people, their lives, opinions and ethnic origins, by viewing them from numerous and historical perspectives. Do not assume….

•Treating other individuals and families as we would like others to treat us and our families (almost all organized religions profess this ethic of reciprocity).

•Gathering facts, from different perspectives, and discussing them in our families before rushing to generalizations or judgments.

So, Happy Holidays and spread the gift of tolerance in our families this season and into 2015. Such a gift will improve the well-being of all Americans, and it will be the gift that keeps on giving!

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!

The Value of Internships in Higher Education

As a president, I strongly encouraged the practice of internships in students’ junior and senior years. Ideally, I wanted about seventy-five percent of students to participate in an internship before graduation. Recently, I talked to several students who completed internships. These students were energized, to say the least, about what they had learned from their internship experiences.

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With a twinkle in their eyes, most of the students informed me that the internship experiences had brought the text and theories to life. The students stated that it was much more useful and interesting to employ theoretical concepts and to discover how diverse paradigms can solve real problems with other interns and co-workers than to read about problems in a text, hear about them in a lecture hall, or even discuss problems with fellow students– although lively debates do also have significant merit. It seemed that internships, unlike specific classes, allowed students to bring their arsenal of learning outcomes, from various disciplines and experiences, into the work environment.

Moreover, internships allowed students to utilize multiple intelligences, as described by Howard Gardner, to navigate the work environment– further allowing students’ performances to be measured more holistically.

While I listened to these students enthusiastically relate their internship experiences, I smiled both externally and internally. The students viewed these experiences as opportunities. The students’ responses were not surprising. Needless to say, experiential learning has been around for a long time. Many colleges and universities encourage these experiences in a wide range of disciplines including the liberal arts (history, English, and language arts).

The State of Washington defines internships as “a combination of on-the-job training (OJT) and related classroom instruction under the supervision of a journey-level craft person or trade professional in which workers learn the practical and theoretical aspects of a highly skilled occupation. After completing an apprenticeship program, the worker’s journey-level status provides an additional benefit of nationwide mobility at journey level scale.”

Moreover, the concept of learning on the job under the supervision of a master goes back to the Middle Ages. Back then, apprentices were mostly men learning their trade by studying and working with a master for a number of years. Over hundreds of years, apprenticeships, however, evolved and became more structured as colleges and universities grew and defined college credit for them.

Often I hear students talk about the transition from college life to the workforce, the students who have experienced internships seem to make a smoother transition into the workforce. Other students who might have excelled in the class have confessed that their transition into the workforce has been a bit more disjointed. They struggled with workplace etiquette, working in teams, and sometimes just the long hours of a job.

As we continue to refine our instructional design to meet the needs of the 21st century, it is important to look closely at the benefits of internships– some learners excel in these structured but real life experiences.

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