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Building the Bridge to the Obama Administration

Dr. John Silvanus Wilson Jr. looks back at his days as a Morehouse College student as a time when faculty, staff and administrators formed a campus community that was nurturing and family-oriented — a distinguishing characteristic of many historically Black colleges and universities.

“But I’m a little concerned that positive feature for some (HBCUs) is becoming more legend than reality,” said Wilson, the new executive director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities. “I think there is a need to preserve that. For some, it’s slipping away.”

That is just one of the aspects of HBCUs that Wilson, an assistant professor at George Washington University, hopes to jump start as head of the offi ce in the U.S. Department of Education that serves as a liaison for HBCUs and the White House. His offi ce issues to the president an annual report on the state of HBCUs and their participation in federal programs, advises the education secretary on increasing the federal role in strengthening HBCUs and about increasing the private sector’s role in boosting HBCUs.

“Very obviously we’re going to have to have great relationships with the new administration, the board of advisors, presidents of the nation’s HBCUs and new constituents,” he said. “That is at the core of what we’re doing – relationship improvement. ”

Wilson, who has degrees from Morehouse and Harvard University, stressed HBCUs need to thrive in order to achieve President Barack Obama’s mandate for America to have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.

“Black colleges have to be part of this,” he said. “We need to fi gure out the best way to invest in Black colleges to ensure they are at the core of the effort to achieve the goals that the president has set.”

Wilson has been an associate professor of higher education at GWU and executive dean of GWU’s Virginia campus. He spent 16 years as director of foundation relations and assistant provost at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Though Wilson is a member of the Spelman College Board of Trustees, he has never worked at an HBCU.

“It is an opportunity to have a positive impact on the nation’s HBCUs,” Wilson said. “I really have had high regard for Barack Obama and the change he’s trying to bring to the nation. It’s an honor to be part of the team convened to make that change.”

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