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Meeting Brings Ohio University, HBCU Officials Together for Collaboration

Beginning this week, six faculty at Ohio’s Central State University began talking among themselves about iPods, social media, clouds, Skype and other information technology tools.  

 That’s just the way Dr. Juliette Bell, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Central State, wants them to spend some of their time after attending last weekend’s Interlink Alliance conference that focused on teaching the perpetually wired millennial student.

 “Many faculty still use the old lecture format and many of today’s students are more accustomed to a faster pace technology way of doing things,” she said.  “So getting [students] engaged is really more difficult if you’re using the old lecture format.”

 While bridging the faculty-student technology divide was the focus of the conference held last week at Spelman College in Atlanta, the gathering served as something much larger.

 It was the first conference for the nine-member Alliance, which consists of Ohio University along with historically Black institutions Spelman College, Central State, North Carolina Central, Hampton, Johnson C. Smith, South Carolina State, Wilberforce and Virginia State universities.

 Their main goal is to establish initiatives to promote access to higher education for African-American students.  But they also look to boost faculty advancement, leadership development, research collaborations and African-American male achievement.

 “And one of the things we wanted to do was deal with those issues that we had in common because we could do more together than we can individual institution,” said Dr. Janice Harper, assistant vice chancellor for academic affairs at North Carolina Central University.

 The idea for the Alliance came out of a discussion between three African-American college presidents: Ohio President Roderick J. McDavis, former North Carolina A&T State Chancellor James C. Renick and former South Carolina State President Andrew Hugine Jr.  

 “They were both interested in a majority institution where they might be able to send some of their graduates,” McDavis said. “But we said, ‘There were a lot of those.  That’s not enough to start a consortium or an alliance.  Let’s look for some more academic things.  Let’s look for some more student development things we can build this around.’”

 The three came up with a multipronged concept that focused on improving the teaching and learning process in the classroom, promoting student leadership both on and off campus and a Black male/female initiative.

 While there are other good programs across the country dealing with college-aged African-American male and female issues, McDavis said the Alliance wants to come up with policies and strategies that others can use.

 “We want to have kind of a round table at a point where we really deal with kind of a strategic approach that really focuses on policy,” he said.  “What kinds of policies might we suggest at a national level or a state level that may have a positive impact on the development of African-American males or African-American females?  We don’t know what that might be, but we see that as a gap.

 “So we want to get our arms around that from a standpoint of getting people together, presidents and chancellors at our universities as well as key faculty on our campuses to talk about policy in how we might frame things not only at college or universities, and maybe the K-12 systems and maybe the social services agencies as we go forward,” McDavis added.  “So that’s kind of a down the road initiative.”         

 The Alliance’s small size is perfect for two reasons: it keeps the numbers involved in the conversation at a manageable level and it allows them to take what they’ve discussed back to their campuses, come up with ideas and spread their findings among others.

 “What I find exciting about this whole initiative is we are not committed to just coming together for a whole conversation,” said Johnson C. Smith President Ronald Carter.  “We have to engage in an actionable conversation where we have the discussion and we ask the faculty to go back and test the models. But then let’s come back and talk about what we discovered in testing these models, these ideas, in the classroom. Then we take another step. This is where I’m excited.  Let’s reflect on all of this and ask what policy recommendations should come out of this that we can make to higher education.”

 While the group is small for now, McDavis said at the right time, it will get larger and more inclusive.         

 “One of the questions that have come up is can we get more majority institutions as part of the Interlink Alliance,” he said.  “We said, ‘yes.’ This is not intended to be just Ohio University and HBCUs. We really look for universities that buy into what we’re trying to do.  So if you have an interest in faculty development, doing some things for teaching and learning; if you’re interested in doing some things around student leadership development; if you’re interested in Black male and female initiatives, this is the type of organization you might want to join.  So we see potential for more HBCUS but we also see the potential for majority institutions as the Interlink Alliance grows.”

 The first issue the Alliance is tackling is teaching the millennial student, which is what the Spelman conference was about. Approximately 85 faculty, staff and administrators (and all nine of the college presidents) attended the two-day conference in which the discussion focused on how faculty can use technology to teach tech-savvy students.

 “We know that these students are really (technologically) wise,” said Harper. “So we need to make sure we are supplementing our instruction with best practices using technology, whether it (is) iPods or digital media. But we know we must infuse our teaching with technology because this is the medium for this generation of students. They do everything on the Web, on the Internet and even social networking is so critical to them. So we have to incorporate these things to supplement the teaching and learning process.”

 “We are seeing technology as a tool,” added Dr. Johnella Butler, Spelman’s provost and vice president for academic affairs. “And to help move the student from technology being the focus or the goal, but the goal being learning and technology being a tool and that’s a shift.”

 Dr. John Silvanus Wilson Jr., executive director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, gave a keynote address on the conference’s final day, praising the Alliance.

 “I think HBCUs would be well served by working with any institutions from which we can learn, whether that’s Ohio, whether that’s Hispanic-serving colleges, whether they are other HBCUs, we should be in the mode of improvement, and many of us are,” he said.  “The alliances are a way in which best practices have been conveyed and transferred for a long time and we need to do more of it.”

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