About a week ago, I had the pleasure of visiting Tuskegee University. Tuskegee is a charming institution with lovely historic buildings and a tranquil campus green. In many ways, Tuskegee looks like any other well-manicured, small college. However, Tuskegee has an amazing and unique history, which is exemplified by the statue of Booker T. Washington in the middle of campus.
Most people, including those inside and out of the Black college community, are familiar with Washington and his leadership at Tuskegee. Likewise, most people are familiar with the institution’s famed Tuskegee airmen who flew in World War II. However, there is an even richer story attached to the institution—one that continues through the current day—in terms of its contributions to our nation’s science, engineering and military strength.
Tuskegee is one of the top producers of Black Ph.D.s in engineering and material sciences and the top producer of African-American aerospace engineers in the nation. Also of note, the institution is the only HBCU in the country that has a College of Veterinary Science, and as a result it is responsible for producing more than 75 percent of Black veterinarians in the nation.
During my visit to campus I had the chance to talk with the institution’s president—Dr. Gilbert Rochon and his wife, Patricia Rochon. Throughout the conversation, the president highlighted the unique contributions that Tuskegee has made and continues to make to the nation’s military. Despite integration in higher education for decades, Tuskegee’s ROTC program is still the top producer of African-American officers in the military. The small Alabama institution even outproduces the nation’s service academies.
Tuskegee’s success in the sciences and production of military officers leads me to wonder what other institutions are doing in terms of production in these areas. How does a small college in Alabama come out on top in these areas when we have countless colleges and universities that often have many more resources?
These institutions need to do their part to contribute to the future of the nation by admitting and graduating African-American students at a greater pace. Perhaps they should examine what Tuskegee is doing and adopt some of the institution’s policies and practices for empowering African-American students.
A professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Marybeth 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).