University of Pennsylvania professor Marybeth Gasman explores issues of access and retention for students and faculty of color and Historically Black Colleges and Universities, among other things
One of my favorite parts of being a professor and doing research related to HBCUs is that I often get to visit these historic institutions. I am often amazed by some of the unique programs taking place on HBCU campuses. There are three programs, in particular, that are interesting and progressive in their approach that I want to highlight.
Cheyney University in Pennsylvania is home to the Aquaculture Research and Education Center. What is most interesting about this Center is its partnership with Herban Farms. The partnership supports the raising of fish, to be used by the university, and the growing of basil, to be used by Herban Farms. Who knew that tilapia provided a perfect growing environment for basil? I was surprised when I visited the campus. Of note, students at Cheyney are not only learning about biology and physiology through the Center but they are conducting research on the economics of the system in place at the university. This is integrated learning at its best.
Paul Quinn College in Texas has a partnership with PepsiCo aimed at providing affordable, healthy food options to economically depressed areas in Dallas. Paul Quinn is located in a “food desert” and despite President Michael Sorrell’s efforts to get a grocery store to service the community, none has obliged. Not easily discouraged, Sorrell set up the PepsiCo partnership and created the Food for Good Farm. This program produces healthy food for the college’s cafeteria, for an on-campus farmer’s market, and for the local community (the college tithes 10 percent of the food). In addition, students involved with the farm are learning to be entrepreneurs and receive academic credit and stipends for their work with the farm. While some students are learning about the science of agriculture, others are learning the business of it.
Also, in Texas, Prairie View A&M University (PVAMU) boasts the International Goat Research Center, which is home to over 1,000 goats. This is one of the oldest and longest running goat research centers in the U.S. Students who work at the center gain exposure to issues related to genetics, reproduction, and veterinary health. In an effort to engage the larger global community, PVAMU has reached out to Ethiopia through a program sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development. The university is working with this country to promote the benefits of goats to family viability. They are also working with Ethiopian farmers to improve the management of goat farms and the health of the animals. Goats are essential to many Ethiopian families as they are a valuable source of milk and nutrition.
I learned about each of these programs through campus tours during my visits. Unfortunately, there is little information on these programs available to the general public. There are several reasons for this lack of information. First, the mainstream media is not that interested in these types of stories, despite the current trend of news stories on community gardens and “green” approaches to living. Second, HBCUs need to do a better job of promoting these unique programs. I’m willing to bet that if we looked more closely (and if HBCUs would tell their stories a little louder and using more new technologies), we’d learn about all kinds of innovative programs on HBCU campuses. Many of these innovations and progressive ideas could help quell the critics that have been telling their version of the HBCU story regardless of having any data to back up their claims.
An associate professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Gasman is the author of “Envisioning Black Colleges: A History of the United Negro College Fund” (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007) and lead editor of “Understanding Minority Serving Institutions” (SUNY Press, 2008).