Nearly 40 years ago at Boston College, I began my journey in higher education as student affairs professional. My challenge: reverse a shockingly low retention rate of 17% for Black and Latino students. Nearly three decades later, we succeeded in raising the retention rate to 95%—a feat that came only after much experience and hard work. While it may seem simple, the first step toward this success is exhibiting a culture of support explicitly for minority populations.
Ongoing support and encouragement can take many forms—from tracking at-risk students, to intervening at key moments with direct academic assistance, or to ongoing mentoring. Often overlooked is the role that acknowledging and rewarding success can play in bolstering students’ confidence and spurring them on to greater achievement.
One very effective approach is naming award programs in honor of outstanding men and women of color who’ve made substantial contributions to this nation, to society, and to the world. Beyond familiarizing the entire campus community with the contributions of these men and women, an equally important goal is to encourage students to become involved in community service and, most importantly, granting awards that acknowledge students for academic excellence.
Three such award programs have existed at Boston College for nearly three decades. They are well worth replicating at other colleges and universities across the nation as they contribute to feelings of belonging, they empower students, and they encourage current and future students to strive to be and do their best. They are as follows:
The AHANA Scholars Program and Reception were created by the Office of AHANA Student Programs to recognize all African-American, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American students who attained a grade point average of 3.0 or better in a semester. This initiative motivated other students to strive to become an AHANA scholar and receive acclaim for outstanding academic performance.
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholarship recognizes a Boston College junior who has demonstrated superior academic achievement, extracurricular leadership, community service, and involvement with the African-American community and African-American issues both on and off campus. The finalists are each honored with a $1,000 gift certificate to the Boston College Bookstore. The winner receives a scholarship of up to $19,000 toward senior year tuition, and the other finalists receive a $3,000 tuition scholarship.
Named in my honor, the Dr. Donald Brown Award is given to a senior who throughout his/her undergraduate career has made extraordinary contributions to the greater Boston College campus, particularly with the AHANA community in the areas of leadership, service, and academic development.