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UNCF to Showcase ‘Purposeful Disruptions’ at HBCUs

Edward Smith-LewisEdward Smith-Lewis

For the third year in a row, the United Negro College Fund will hold its Career Pathways Initiative Annual Convening & Data Institute, bringing together data industry experts and faculty, staff and executive leadership from more than 40 historically Black institutions this month in Fort Lauderdale.

With a goal to build a community of practice, the convening and data institute from July 23-25 will leverage individuals’ and institutions’ knowledge on technology-driven best practices  in order for CPI’s partnering institutions to collaborate and set strategic agendas to usher their students into the 21st-century workforce with viable skills and experiences.

CPI’s three-prong approach to their work on improving students’ career outcomes – promoting guided pathways, enhancing curriculum and integrating co-curricular engagement – will be at the root of this year’s theme, “Purposeful Disruption.”

“We are really intent on institutions understanding the needs of their current space and then disrupting the current practice,” said Edward Smith-Lewis, director of the UNCF Career Pathways Initiative. “Purposeful disruption has less to do with the nice, shiny objects or the technology that’s being promoted in higher ed. It has much more to do with the intentionality of changing culture and changing practice on campus.”

Smith-Lewis added that, in order for institutions to commit to this work, data must inform their decisions.

“We can’t change what we don’t know … data is crucial to that,” he said.

The CPI convening aims to uplift institutions and will showcase in 90-minute concurrent sessions some of the innovative “disruptions” – or “purposeful disruptors” as Smith-Lewis calls them – that HBCUs have implemented on their campuses.

Dr. Eugene L. Anderson of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, Dr. Felecia Commodore of Old Dominion University, Dr. Wendell Hall from The College Board, Bonita J. Brown from Achieving the Dream, Dr. Andrew Nichols of The Education Trust and Dr. Krystal L. Williams from the University of Alabama will serve as some of the “collaboration accelerators” in facilitated conversations. Dr. Jamal Watson, executive editor of Diverse, will facilitate a conversation with the “collaboration accelerators.”

“They’re going to be in those sessions really pushing the dialogue to get to the idea of ‘What can we all learn from this?’ ‘What can we adopt?’ ‘What can we steal?’” said Smith-Lewis.

Other sessions will explore how to implement best practices at a practical level. In addition, CPI leaders will engage institutions around ways they can help students make connections from their campus work to the workforce.

“This idea of learning for the sake of learning is critical but not real for those students who are coming with the hopes that they get the chance to change their family’s trajectory after they get this college degree,” Smith-Lewis said.

Plenary speakers will include Dr. Terrell Strayhorn, Dr. Amelia Parnell, Imminent Equity CEO Heather Hiles and Cheryl Hyman, former chancellor of City Colleges of Chicago.

The Data Institute will consist of a “Technology Spotlight” session, a hands-on data session and a data boot camp to enhance data analysis skills in institutions’ IT representatives and other student support stakeholders. External perspectives from data industry leaders will highlight technologies that institutions should be using in their work.

Smith-Lewis and other UNCF leaders hold the hypothesis that its partnering institutions cannot execute the kind of large-scale, transformative change that they are looking for on HBCU campuses one institution at a time.

“We have to have institutions learning from each other so that everyone’s not trying to reinvent the wheel,” he said. “The idea here is that there are no proprietary practices in the Career Pathways Initiative. It’s all about sharing for the betterment of the students.”

Tiffany Pennamon can be reached at [email protected]. You can follow her on Twitter @tiffanypennamon.

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