Incoming freshmen in Harris-Stowe State University’s Class of 2020 had a surprise when they arrived on the Midtown campus to start their first semester on Wednesday, August 17: the White House was in the house.

The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans hosted a summit in the main auditorium in the Givens Building, led by David J. Johns, executive director of the initiative, which President Obama established in 2012 in an effort to improve educational outcomes for African Americans and better prepare them for college and productive careers.

These summits, Johns explained, were designed for adults to listen to African-American youth. In too many efforts to improve education, Johns said, “Adults talk to adults without ever listening to young people. We’re here to listen.”

Adults – and a group of freshmen making their way through orientation – listened to a panel of four Harris-Stowe students (a senior, junior and two freshmen), as well as an alumnus pursuing graduate studies in higher education administration at Lindenwood University.

“You have to expand your network,” the alumnus, Christopher C. Miller, advised the freshmen. “You have to introduce yourself, shake hands, challenge yourself, and don’t worry about what other students are doing.”

Miller, who spoke in a rich, assured tone, said he started Harris-Stowe as a shy student with a speech impediment, who had not been popular in high school, but was determined to make more of his university experience.

“I introduced myself to student leaders,” Miller said, “and some of them took me under their wing. Even student leaders started somewhere.”

Jaemica Logan, a senior at Harris-Stowe, is a current student leader. She was junior class president and is current Miss Harris-Stowe, but she started at ground zero.

“When I came here, I had no friends, so it was a survival thing for me,” Logan said. “I went to mixers, I went to karaoke night, I went to everything because I didn’t want to be alone.”

She networked with faculty as diligently as she did with students after a faculty advisor, Salim Kenyatta, gave her a critical piece of advice that she took to heart.

“Mr. Kenyatta told me you need three mentors,” Logan said. “So I found three mentors. These are people, when you need a recommendation letter or you don’t understand something, they’re there. So find mentors. Go into people’s offices and ask them things. The worst they can say is no.”

Shaquille Muhammad, a junior at Harris-Stowe returning from a study abroad experience in China, said that African-American students should try to develop themselves with a collaborative mindset.

“You’ve got to have initiative to get what you want, but you also got to have a mindset of building something larger,” Muhammad said. “All it takes is getting to know your neighbor and knowing that you’re here to make a difference. If you’re going to rebuild your community, it starts with education. I consider it my duty.”

Armoni Williams, an incoming freshman from Chicago, said she plans to try the same approach that worked for her in high school.

“In high school, I was into everything – ROTC, modeling, cheerleading, I would go greet new freshmen,” Williams said. “Networking in high school prepared me for networking in college. People will do things for you, but you have to branch out and talk to people. A closed mouth never gets fed.”

Dajon Stewart is an incoming freshman pursuing a dual degree in mathematics and engineering at Harris-Stowe and Saint Louis University. He said he failed eighth grade, but bounced back with the support of family and mentors in his high school robotics program. He said that effective networking should extend beyond students and faculty to include experts – and future employers – in the wider community.

“If you want to be an engineer, then walk into an engineering company and ask for a mentor,” Stewart said. “It is interesting to get inside their heads and get them talking about engineering.”

Logan, the junior class president who became Miss Harris-Stowe, said the new freshmen were in a position to create their future starting now, regardless of what support they had – or lacked – before.

“Even if you don’t have the family support you need, start now building that support,” Logan said. “You got it in you. You got here. You are here for a reason.”

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(2) comments


Harris Stowe is one wonderfull of a great university. It has shown some really great and remarkable results. The thing is helps students a lot in their studies. It's a great stuff to read.



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