Pedagogue Blog

The transferrable skills from a doctoral degree in the sciences

**The Edvocate is pleased to publish guest posts as way to fuel important conversations surrounding P-20 education in America. The opinions contained within guest posts are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of The Edvocate or Dr. Matthew Lynch.**

A guest post by Anwar Dunbar

July 8, 2015 marked the ten year anniversary of the earning of my Ph.D. (doctor of philosophy degree) in Pharmacology from the University of Michigan.  It was a tremendous accomplishment educationally and scientifically for a kid from Buffalo’s eastside.  Coming from my community, it would have both far reaching effects, and social implications that I didn’t understand at the time.

On June 2, 2015, the University of Michigan’s Department of Pharmacology hosted its annual Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics Career Day.  The event was designed to expose the department’s current students, to the multiple career options available to them following their doctoral and masters level trainings.  As a key component of the day, select alumni (myself included) were invited back and asked to discuss their careers and share their experiences.

Going back to Ann Arbor is always like going home.  Six of the most of the most meaningful years of my life were spent there learning about science and life.  My graduate advisor for example taught me lasting lessons not only about pharmacological research, but also how to be a professional and how to survive in this world.  In some ways, he was like a second father who was hard on me, and pushed me (and everyone else in the lab) to the brink to make us grow and succeed.

While I experienced tremendous growth during graduate school earning my degree, some of the most meaningful lessons about my doctoral degree itself took place after leaving Ann Arbor.  College towns like Ann Arbor are unique in that the University is a major part of the town’s culture, and as such there is an unusually high concentration of highly educated individuals there.  Needless to say every place isn’t like that, and you don’t realize it until you leave.

Once I left, I discovered that my degree touched people in many different ways.  I actually wrote a ten part series for the Examiner titled “Pursing a Ph.D.” (, and in it I touched on this.  In one of the installments I shared  some of my biological father’s words of wisdom regarding my degree.

“I wouldn’t tell people that you’re a doctor when you first meet them.  They’re going to expect you to have certain things and look a certain way.”  Upon moving to Albany, NY for my Postdoctoral fellowship, my father gave me this stern recommendation.  I didn’t understand why he was encouraging me to keep my great accomplishment a secret, but to make a long story short, he was afraid of other people’s expectations, and there was validity to his fears.

Our society associates the title of doctor with wealth, no matter what kind of doctor the person is.  The late Dr. Thomas Stanley, author of the Millionaire Next Door series discussed in his books that being a high income professional, and the accumulation of wealth don’t directly correlate.  Wealth building involves; sound money management skills, financial literacy, and in some cases delayed gratification, components that not all doctors have.

“I wasn’t aware of Dr. Dunbar’s level of education when I met him so I was unable to address him by his proper title,” said a teacher at a Career Day at a local Maryland elementary school in late May.  I casually revealed to the class that I earned a Ph.D. but didn’t introduce myself as “Dr. Dunbar.”  As best I could, I tried to humbly explain to her class of sixth graders that success, in this case earning a doctorate, is a door that swings both ways.  That is, some people will instinctually be happy for you, celebrate your success and look at you with reverence, while others will unfortunately feel threatened and insecure about it and behave as such.  This can be relatives, friends, significant others, coworkers, etc.  There are numerous stories I could tell about this both good and bad, but there isn’t enough room in this piece.

In any case let’s circle back to the University of Michigan’s Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics Career Day.  What does having a doctorate really mean?  What does it actually empower one to do particularly in the sciences?

As the lone government Regulatory scientist at the Career Day, I interestingly drew the first time slot for the morning speakers.  I had no idea what my peers were going to say, but surprisingly most of our talks had similar core themes.  Each of us in our own way, communicated that in addition to becoming experts of our thesis projects, in my case the “Ubiquitination and Proteasomal Degradation of Neuronal Nitric Oxide Synthase,” there were a host of skills that we had all learned that were applicable to our current careers in the Public and Private sectors, and in other areas.  Among them were:

  • Critical thinking/Problem solving skills
  • The ability to multi-task, organize and coordinate multiple projects
  • The ability to write clearly
  • The ability to speak and present clearly
  • The ability to work on teams
  • The ability to adapt and understand new systems

My classmates had all gone on to do some very impressive things.  Each of us worked on research projects in the areas of; Cardiovascular Pharmacology, Receptor Pharmacology, and Drug Metabolism, just to name a few.  However after graduation, not everyone had taken the traditional path of becoming tenure-track academic professors/researchers.  Some had gone on to; work in the pharmaceutical industry, start their own companies, become consultants, become academic professors or administrators (at small teaching colleges), or science advocates.  Our varying careers spoke in part to our department’s openness to prepare its students for the potential for other careers, in addition to the versatility of the skills that we had acquired.

In summary, earning any doctorate whether it be in the sciences or the humanities is a tremendous accomplishment.  That being said, it’s what one does with the skills they’ve acquired during their thesis research that makes them great, not the degree itself.  In the sciences, in addition to mastery of one’s area of expertise there a core set of skills learned.  And it is these skills that make that person exceptional no matter which field they go into.


Anwar Y. Dunbar is a Regulatory Scientist in the Federal Government where he registers and regulates Pesticides.  He earned his Ph.D. in Pharmacology from the University of Michigan and his Bachelor’s Degree in General Biology from Johnson C. Smith University.  In addition to publishing numerous research articles in competitive scientific journals,  he has also published over one hundred articles for the Examiner ( on numerous education and literacy related topics in the areas of; Current Events and Culture, Higher Education, Financial Literacy, and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).  He actively mentors youth and works to spread awareness of STEM careers to minority students.  He also tutors in the subjects of Biology, Chemistry and Physics.  He is a native of Buffalo, NY.  He can be contacted via email at [email protected], and can be followed on Twitter @anwaryusef.

The Ultimate Demise of Common Core – Part III: The Logistics

From an idealogical perspective, the differences that divide Americans are also what make the nation unique and great. When it comes to education, however, there seems to be a competing theory that differences should be dismissed in favor of finding a standardized way to teach all K-12 students. Time and again when it comes to national policy on education, stringent sets of benchmarks are consistently put in place that are accompanied with funding incentives. The latest example of this one-size-fits-all approach to education policy is Common Core standards and the testing that goes with them.

This week I’ve already written about the way politics and parents will contribute to the end of days for Common Core and today I’d like to add in exactly how the logistics will too.

American students really are multi-faceted.

It seems everywhere you look, we celebrate diversity in this country. From skin color, to language spoken, to sexual preferences, the national message seems to be “Be you. Whatever that looks like.” Except when it comes to measuring a “good” education. It’s widely accepted that students learn in different ways and customized learning initiatives are a trend fueled by in-classroom technology. HOW students learn is varied, but WHAT they are learning is somehow expected to fall into some neat, standardized package. Laying down countrywide rules of sorts for learning, and attaching those to funding, is an easy way to check off boxes on a spreadsheet but not an effective way to teach each student exactly what he or she needs to know based on career paths, interests and life circumstances.

Regionalisms exist.

It’s true that the world is becoming smaller and that the differences that once divided K-12 students by geography are shrinking. Still, there are some learning standards that just make more sense in one area over another. The benefits of learning a foreign language should be shared on a national level, but the specifics of those benchmarks should be considered. A state like Arizona or Texas, for example, with a high percentage of Spanish-speakers could benefit from more curriculum customized to that population, and in a much more effective way than a state like Iowa or Maine. Common Core is not a curriculum set, of course, but I use the language example as a way to show the difference between students and how where they live really does impact what they really should know. Industry specific learning is also a consideration when it comes to what should be taught more heavily, not as a way to pigeon-hole students but as a way to set them up for the best chance at career success. Considerations for subject areas that have been weak in a particular region should also be thought about and given priority.

There is not one model student.

The idea that all U.S. K-12 students should know exactly the same things, and graduate from high school with the same shared learning experiences is flawed. Of course no one expects any two students to be identical in their learning outcomes, but the implication of Common Core standards are that there should be a cookie-cutter which every district and every teacher uses. Such an educational model goes against every other American ideal – like innovation, creativity and individuality – yet is prevalent throughout the public school system. If there were one leading flaw in Common Core requirements, it would be this: it allows no wiggle room for letting students be the people they were meant to be.

If you could pinpoint the crux of the problem with Common Core standards and implementation, what would it be?

5 Advancements in Special Education You Should Know About

It is estimated that over 6.5 million children in the U.S. have disabilities. Meeting the needs of these students poses special challenges. This is one area of education that is a priority for many people and entities. In this article, I will talk about five advancements and findings that are specifically related to special education in this country.

  1. Special education preschoolers learn better in mainstream settings.

A study from Ohio State University found that preschoolers categorized as having special needs or disabilities learned more with at least some time in mainstream classrooms than outside of it.

“We found that children with disabilities get a big boost in their language scores over the course of a year when they can interact with other children who have good language skills,” said the study’s co-author and a teaching professor, Laura Justice.

To reach these conclusions, 670 preschool children enrolled in 83 different programs were observed and analyzed. Of those numbers, half had a disability. Classrooms with a combination of special education and mainstream students, as well as classrooms with 100 percent special education students were studied and compared.

In the classrooms where special education students were placed among more highly-skilled peers, language scores were 40 percent higher at the end of the preschool year than those in special-needs only classrooms. The study also found that the mainstream students were not negatively impacted by the presence of special needs students, and showed the same levels of improvements as previous classes with no special needs students.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, about half of the nation’s special needs preschoolers are in classrooms with higher-skilled peers, but as this study points out, all preschoolers could benefit from the inclusion.

  1. D.C. has worked to change special education in their schools.

In 2014, the District of Columbia Council moved forward with three bills to revamp special education in the city. The bills will work together to provide more information for parents of special needs students and to speed up the process of receiving services.

Most significantly, the legislation would reduce the amount of maximum time between a referral and when an evaluation must take place from 120 days to 60 days. The 120-day mandate is the longest in the nation.

Early intervention programs would also receive extra support and resources, and the transition to adulthood classes will begin at the age of 14 instead of the previous 16. Parents would also receive more rights as a result of the bills, with the ability to be allowed to observe current or future classrooms of their children.

Charter schools would also be encouraged to develop special-needs programs with a new preference in enrollment lotteries for students that a have a disability that their school specializes in addressing.

In D.C., over 13,000 students are classified as having disabilities that impact their studies, and only one in five are proficient in reading (only one in four are proficient in math).

  1. Bethune-Cookman University aims to create more special education teachers.

Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Florida received a $1.25 million grant from the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services through the U.S. Department of Education that will be used to launch a program called Project Child. The initiative aims to graduate 70 master level special education teachers through a fully online program to meet the growing demand for these educators.

The Council for Exceptional Children reports that there are 49 states, including Florida, with a shortage of teachers in classrooms where there are 6 million children or youth with disabilities.

According to The Daytona Beach News-Journal online, Willis Walter, dean of the school’s college of education said, “There is a critical shortage throughout the nation. And one of the ways that we’re hoping to assist with that battle is giving more students an incentive to go into the field.”

  1. The U.S. Department of Education has raised the bar in measuring special education benchmarks.

Factors like state graduation rates and test scores will now be considered more heavily when determining which states are helping, and what states are failing, their special education students.

States that are unable to meet the new benchmarks set forth for three years or more could face losing some of their special education funding.

How difficult will it be for states to achieve the benchmarks when it comes to special education students? To put it in perspective, 41 states met the requirements of the old system. Under the new requirements, only 18 states meet the standards.

In speaking about the reason for this shift in policy, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan implied that by setting a higher bar for special education achievements, students will benefit.

“We know that when students with disabilities are held to high expectations and have access to the general curriculum in the regular classroom, they excel. We must be honest about student performance, so that we can give all students the supports and services they need to succeed,” he said.

  1. The mayor of New York vowed to fix the special education reimbursement program.

Mayor Bill de Blasio assured state lawmakers that his administration would streamline the process of applying for and receiving aid for families with special education students who chose private school programs. Though NYC public schools do offer special education programs, some families feel that the specific disabilities and skill levels cannot be met through the public school offerings.

The mayor’s verbal commitment came just shy of the State Assembly nearly passing a law that would force de Blasio to change the system in favor of families with special education needs. The bill already passed the State Senate. Among other things, the legislation would put an end to the annual review process that forces families to re-enter their information and paperwork for reimbursement.

New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who spoke directly to de Blasio, says that the Assembly will pass the bill if the NYC administration falls short of its promises on the matter.

The latest bill came after a string of others with similar intent over the past three years — none of which have passed. Among the opponents to the removal of the annual review process was the New York State School Boards Association that argued that the yearly requirement is necessary since children’s needs change over time. In addition to special education families, New York City’s Orthodox Jewish Community supports easier reimbursement for private and religious school tuition for the special education students that need it.

I think that any reimbursement program outside the public school system that uses tax dollars should be subject to scrutiny, but it seems the families of special education students are facing unfair treatment. I hope that de Blasio is able to live up to his promises regarding the streamlining of this process.

I am excited to see all the efforts to improve special education in our country — special education is a necessary component of education.

2 Sex Ed Approaches—Which One Works Better?

  1. Abstinence-only sex education

When I first saw the headline, I thought it was too ironic to be true: Texas school teaching abstinence-only sex ed suffers chlamydia outbreak.

I would’ve probably even laughed if I hadn’t realized quickly that it was not only true, but that it meant dozens of kids now had to deal with the discomfort and potential long-term harm of a sexually transmitted disease. These are kids that were clearly not practicing abstinence and were ill-prepared for real-life sexual encounters. It isn’t the fault of these kids, either.

It is irresponsible of school systems to teach abstinence-only sexual education and it should be illegal in public schools.

Should abstinence be taught as the only sure way to avoid things like unplanned pregnancies and STDs? Of course it should because it IS the only absolute way. But that abstinence extends beyond basic sexual intercourse. Students need to understand exactly all the ways they can be harmed by unprotected sex and then given the power to protect themselves.

The argument that parents should be the only ones to talk to their kids about sexual options just doesn’t cut it because it is elitist. It only works for students whose parents have the time or concern to actually sit down with their kids and have that talk. It leaves out the many students whose parents won’t actually have this talk with their kids or the ones who will preach abstinence-only. Schools have the responsibility to educate to their best of their abilities, and let’s face it: abstinence-only sex ed fails that mantra miserably.

  1. Starting early

Talking about sex to a classroom full of five-year-old kids is likely to make some teachers and parents uncomfortable. But that is the approach that the Netherlands is taking and it is working.

According to studies by the Word Health Organization and the World Bank by way of, the dutch have “one of the lowest” teen pregnancy rates in the word and “nine out of ten Dutch adolescents used contraceptives the first time” they chose to have sex.

While kindergarten may seem too early for sex ed in America, starting early has its merits.

A sex education program called “Get Real: Comprehensive Sex Education that Works” targeted at middle schoolers (6th – 8th grade) reports success at reducing the amount of sexually active teens who take the course. More than 150 schools have implemented the program in Texas, Rhode Island, New York and Massachusetts.

The program focuses on accurate medical information regarding sexuality, and is designed to work in conjunction with parents as the main front for talking honestly with their kids about sexual activity. It is not an abstinence-only program, but does provide advice on encouraging kids to say “no” to sex.

According to the program site, 15 percent less girls and 16 percent less boys who take “Get Real” classes engage in sexual activity, compared with their peers.  The numbers are even more impactful because the program is targeted at middle schools where students are at a higher risk for engaging in sexual activity.

A study released by New York University’s Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health and Planned Parenthood found that by the time children reached age 21, only 1 in 5 parents had a discussion with their kids about birth control, saying “no” to sex and where to go for sexual health information.

The survey also found that nearly one-third of parents have never talked with their kids about where to go for reproductive health care.

Programs like “Get Real” are a necessity in our K-12 schools, and definitely by the middle school age. Waiting until high school means that kids have had several years of exposure to misinformation, and may already been sexually active. Age-appropriate, heath-based sex education is the right way to go — and I hope that “Get Real” spreads to more schools.

Abstinence-only education has not helped in lowering America’s teen pregnancy rate or reign in the growth of STDs among teenagers. Continuing the closed minded approach about sexual education works to the detriment of our students and we will continue to reap the benefits of the bad educational decisions we’ve made, which may be an increase rates of teen pregnancy and STDs.

Further, young men and women should have access to questions that pertain to reproductive systems but don’t directly mention sex. Topics like cancers and ovarian cysts and more should be discussed when students are still young enough to feel empowered with the knowledge.

What do you think? Should public schools be required to teach safe sex practices? How early do you think sex ed should be taught?


Study: Smoking less dangerous than no education

Studies are a dime a dozen these days, but there are still plenty that force you to pay attention.

Take a Washington Post story that talks about a new study published in PLOS ONE, a journal from the Public Library of Science.

According to the Post’s review of the study, “more than 145,000 deaths could have been prevented in 2010 if adults who did not finish high school had earned a GED or high school diploma – comparable to the mortality rates of smoking.”

That’s staggering considering smoking and education aren’t necessarily congruent.

For decades Americans have been warned about the horrors of smoking because of the adverse effects that it has on one’s health. While having an education has always been synonymous with success, not sure if anyone, or any study for that matter, has ever gone this far to connect poor health, or death related to poor health, to lacking a proper education.

The study, according to the Post, doesn’t directly correlate poor education with death. Rather it counts death as “an estimate of education’s impact on mortality, and do not indicate direct causality.”

While this study doesn’t directly state that failure to attain an education will result in death, it does portend that death is a consequence of one’s failure to gain an education. Make sense?

This type of information is multi-faceted because of how far it stretches. Personal responsibility plays a role; the government has an act in this play; the private sector and many other areas are also complicit.

How we move along with the information posted from this story will be interesting as well. Because, maybe more than anything, this shows just how stark the consequences are for our society if we fail to properly educate our children.

The results may be death.

Study: High college tuition may not correlate with high earnings

Saving a year’s worth of salary for one year of higher education at Harvard may yield great career results for some but that may not be true for all.

According to U.S. News and World Report, a recent Brookings Study shows that “other schools may either not cost as much and yield a similar salary and success of loan repayment, or they may cost about the same but generate higher earnings potential.”

Harvard is a small sample size and represents a limited portion of the zenith of college costs. But, in essence, the study shows that one may earn just as much for the duration of their career by attending a college with cheaper tuition.

That’s not a knock against Harvard as students, and their parents, are free to choose any school that matches with their educational goals.

This is an alternative that students have always taken. Take Ronald Nelson, a student who was accepted to all eight Ivy League schools.

Instead of choosing a prestigious Ivy League school, and the tuition that came along with it, Nelson went with the University of Alabama.

He said that Alabama “offered him a full scholarship and admittance into their selective honors program.” Nelson also wants to save for medical school and states that going to an Ivy League higher education institution would not allow him that luxury.

Still–students and parents have to make the decision that’s best for them. Rising costs of higher education will likely force more students to choose cheaper schools over ones with higher tuition rates.

Diverse Conversations: The Business of Higher Education

There are many people that believe higher education could be changed for the better if colleges and universities were to think of themselves as businesses and the students as the customers. In theory, higher education institutions would operate more efficiently, which could potentially make students more satisfied with the education they are receiving and lead to lower tuition costs. For this week’s edition of “Diverse Conversations,” I sat down with Amy Hillman, Dean of the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, to discuss the “the business of higher education.”

Q: Many people believe that colleges and universities operate optimally when they adopt a business model; this is much to the chagrin of their faculty. Should institutions operate as businesses or are the objections of the faculty warranted?

A: If we consider “adopting a business model” to mean responding to market demands, then I think it’s absolutely critical for colleges to do so. Universities need to be adaptable, embrace technology and innovation, and employ unique strategies. They should examine the needs of their surrounding communities, including businesses, which can employ future graduates.

For example, here at the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, our new master’s degree in business analytics was developed as a result of industry demand for employees with strong training in analyzing big data, and more importantly, being able to make informed decisions from that data. We have also added more leadership, critical-thinking and negotiation components to our curriculum, as employers demanded more skills in those areas.

It’s important to recognize that the job market changes. For professional schools (like business schools), failure to keep up with market conditions leads to obsolescence, and students will suffer from a lack of employability. Schools need to be nimble like an entrepreneur, able to quickly respond to changes in the business environment or actions by competing institutions. Complacency within schools results in the same problems as complacency within businesses. After all, if our profession is centered on enabling student success throughout their careers, then we need to practice what we teach.

Q: When colleges discuss operating efficiently and optimally, many employees see this as code for layoffs and budget cuts. Are they right to be apprehensive?

A: Efficiency is critical for any organization, nonprofits (e.g. universities) included. Being able to do the most possible with the resources given (efficiency) means better service — and more of it — for all involved. Apprehension like you describe, however, seems to be more a matter of trust. If employers use code words to hide what is really happening, employees will lose trust, and that’s never good. It’s not good for employees or employers.

Q: Nowadays, a lot of higher education institutions are recruiting their presidents from the business world. What do you think of this trend? Does it make sense? Especially since we know that many of these recruits end up garnering mixed reviews?

A: I was unaware of this trend with the exception of the for-profit universities, in which case, it makes sense because their ultimate goal is shareholder value creation. In the context of not-for-profit universities, this is like hiring a president from the business world to run any not-for-profit. It would take a special candidate to take what is best from the business world and apply it to universities, while still keeping the mission of education at the forefront.

Q: There are people within higher education who believe that it is overly commercial, and almost becoming a caricature of itself. Is there some truth to this? What are your thoughts?

A: I would guess that this line of thought is aimed at the new and highly visible for-profit companies selling education. They have very large marketing budgets and opportunities to sometimes portray themselves in ways that don’t necessarily reflect the ideals of nonprofit universities.

As the world of higher education evolves, we need to keep the lines of communication open with both our employees and our other constituents, to create a shared vision. Big changes always seem daunting to some, but if we have a shared vision and shared goals, then we can also share a sense of accomplishment as we achieve those goals.

For example, a decade ago, the W. P. Carey School of Business became one of the first business schools to enter the relatively uncharted waters of online education from quality, traditional universities. By utilizing the same stellar faculty members in our other highly ranked MBA programs, as well as a phenomenal technical team, we have risen to the top of the offerings out there. In fact, this year, our online MBA program was ranked No. 2 in the nation in U.S. News & World Report’s first-ever numerical online-MBA ranking. Faculty and staff across the board took pride in this achievement.

Q: What current trends do you see in higher education, as it pertains to how it does business? How about business innovation?

A: Beyond the increased demand for specialized master’s programs like the business-analytics degree I mentioned above, another growing trend is that of offering interdisciplinary degrees. The business world has long recognized that true innovation comes from working across functional silos. Employers are telling us they need employees with the skills to bridge the gaps between engineering and marketing, between sustainability and finance, and between legal and strategy, as examples.
This is one reason the W. P. Carey School introduced new interdisciplinary undergraduate degrees five years ago wherein a student can get a B.A. in business with a concentration in areas including communications, global leadership, legal studies, public policy or sustainability. These interdisciplinary degrees marry the knowledge from the business toolbox with broad-based thinking in other areas.

The need for interdisciplinary thinking is also the reason we have so many dual degrees. All of our master’s degrees (MBA, M.S. in Information Management, M.S. in Business Analytics, Master of Accountancy, Master of Taxation, M.S. in Management, Master of Real Estate Development) can be paired with graduate degrees in architecture, engineering or law. This is also the reason we have strong partners like the Mayo Clinic, which sends M.D. students to the W. P. Carey School to get advanced degrees, including our MBA, while they are still in medical school.

Q: As far as the “the business of higher education,” what will it look like in the future?

A: Like other businesses, the business of higher education will continue to evolve. For example, I think the talk about MOOCs (massively open online courses) is overblown.

A similar situation happened in the media industry in the early days of the Internet. Despite all the fuss about free content, The Wall Street Journal was one of the first media websites to step up and charge for access. As they say, “Content is king,” and that worked out for the newspaper.

While MOOCs may be good marketing for colleges and universities, they have no clear business model. That doesn’t mean business schools can ignore them, but rather, as with any technological improvement, we can embrace them in a way that furthers our value propositions.

Well, that concludes my interview with Amy Hillman. I would like to thank her for consenting to this interview.

Click here to read all our posts concerning the Achievement Gap.

Why diversity on college campuses matters to the real world

It’s easy to think of college campuses as islands – academic havens with little interaction with the greater world beyond. In reality, the work done on the grounds of colleges and universities has a big impact on society, from medical breakthroughs to mass adoption of social change. It’s important then that U.S. institutions of higher learning are representative of society as whole in their student bodies and staff. That’s easier said than done, of course, but multicultural representation on college campuses should be a top priority. Beyond the boost a multicultural campus brings to the immediate student and faculty body, there are some reasons why diversity on college campuses matter in the real world.

Eliminating the wage gap

There is a gender wage gap and there is a minority wage gap. Unless you are a white male, you are probably making less than white males who do the same job as you. Some argue that the wage gap doesn’t exist but statistics show otherwise. The latest numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics finds that women make 78 cents for every dollar earned by a man in the U.S. The racial pay gap varies but in industries like technology, minority workers make $3,000 to $8,000+ less than white counterparts.

Even if these numbers are not 100 percent accurate, they are telling of an overarching problem with the American workforce: people are not paid equally. By having more diversity in the amount of highly educated workers, Americans have a better shot at getting rid of the nasty wage gap for good. Not only will these educated workers be more apt to ask for what they are worth, but it stands to reason that more diversity will emerge in positions of leadership (i.e. – those that make salary decisions). Feeding diversity into the professional workforce goes a long way toward pay equality and ups the standard of living for minorities and women.

Getting rid of discrimination

Racial tensions have spiked in the past year or so around the country, accented by the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York City. Though a lot of people like to believe that discrimination is no longer an issue in the U.S., these incidents and reactions to them highlight just how much more work needs to be done to eliminate prejudices, injustice and discrimination between races. In my experience, it is easier to judge and alienate hypothetical people that you have never actually met. Once you’ve spent some time with the very people you once judged, it becomes more difficult to not view them as equals. Unfortunately when it comes to our nation’s public schools, diversity is difficult to achieve in districted areas. Kids go to school alongside their neighbors – people who often look like them, have a similar socioeconomic background, and who have the same basic life experience. Colleges and universities are able to break out of this mold and can be the first pass at diversity students experience. It’s important to maximize that opportunity by making sure not just campuses, but individual programs, are well represented with students from a variety of racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. It is harder to discriminate against a friend and colleague than a nameless ideal of a person.

Stronger U.S. competition on the world stage

The more ideas brought to a discussion, the better the chance of a good one. When a variety of perspectives are pooled, innovation and creativity emerge. Nations like Japan have always had an academic edge but Americans often win out because of the one thing that just can’t be taught: visionary thinking. When everyone brings the same experience to a problem, there will be less ways to solve it. A diverse college body means a more diverse workforce after graduation. This helps EVERYONE. When the U.S. succeeds on the world stage, Americans all benefit.

Diversity matters on college campuses and not just for the benefit of those institutions. Could the next generation of college grads be the one to help the U.S. surge ahead of world competitors through collective creativity? To eliminate the wage gap? To put an end to discrimination? All of these accomplishments are on the horizon in the U.S. – and colleges and universities can give them all a boost by fostering multiculturalism and diversity on campuses.

Are Scandinavian schools really better than American ones?

There is a fascinating interview by with Hans Renman, the CEO of Scandinavian Education, a think tank that has the aim of using pointed strategy to properly manage development “to help the school take the next step.”

In the talk, Renman speaks of trouble with the testing culture in the United States, problems with technology and teaching, and how equality has aided the growth of education in Noridic countries.

“In every single class you can find students from any social background. How people live in Finland is not as extreme as in other countries, like England or the United States. You can see research on the effectiveness of school systems that says that if the education system is equal and democratic, it’s a good thing for every student, not just the top five percent, like say in Singapore or China.”

An interesting distinction to the argument for equality are the living conditions of some Americans. In Finland, schools are publicly funded, so there is no discrepancy on which schools receive more money. There are also “no rankings, no comparisons or competition between students, schools or regions.”

That leads to equality as every student may be measured on the same level, sort of, and each individual will receive the same quality education.

Obviously America’s approach is a little different. We thrive on competition, think that comparisons are healthy, and use rankings as a way to show what’s good and bad. Doing away with these footnotes would likely remove a level of stress from educators and students here but there is no way to tell if it would make a significant difference in how students learn. Our economy isn’t necessarily based on equality either, so to insert fairness into how we educate students would mean that America has changed its capitalistic philosophy.

Outside of equality, we can probably learn from the Finnish on why testing may hinder a student’s ability succeed. Students in Finland are given just one exam prior to graduating high school. According to Renman, it is a key difference in how students are education in America versus say Finland or Sweden.

“In Scandinavia, the results of the national tests are more the business of the school officials. For a single student, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t affect your grade.”

The research surrounding the success of schools in Scandinavia and Finland is worth continued exploration. America may surely cherry pick certain policies from the education model in Northern Europe to improve the education system here. But there are also certain practices that wouldn’t fit and would fail if implemented.

Still–copying the steps success will usually yield good results.

Punishable by Death: The Quest for Literacy

The concept of basic literacy is taken for granted across much of the civilized world today — but there are still corners of the world where the simple ability to read and write are reserved only for an elite few. Most recently, young girls and women in such countries as Pakistan and Afghanistan have been killed, shot and threatened for simply seeking, or supporting, literacy rights.

Restricting the right to education is not a new concept, and has been used by groups in power for centuries. The Catholic Church prevented the Bible itself from being translated into the tongues of the common people for centuries, and celebrated mass in Latin only until the Reformation.

This was a deliberate effort on the part of the Catholic Rulers to prevent the education of the common folk since they could not read the Bible for themselves and were forced to depend on the clergy to provide instruction for their daily lives. An uneducated populace is easily ruled.

This is also what prompted James Madison to write centuries later: “During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What has been its fruits? More or less, in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution.”

Of course, in the newly formed United States, the same form of control and persecution existed. Many states had specific laws prohibiting the education of “persons of color.” The state of Georgia penal code read:

“Punishment for teaching slaves or free persons of color to read. — If any slave, Negro, or free person of color, or any white person, shall teach any other slave, Negro, or free person of color, to read or write either written or printed characters, the said free person of color or slave shall be punished by fine and whipping, or fine or whipping, at the discretion of the court.”

Across the water in the British Isles, the English passed injunctions against the teaching of children by those of the Roman Catholic faith, mandating that all Irish children must be taught in English-sponsored schools by Anglican teachers, in order to convert the youth of Ireland away from “the popish faith” and make them more amenable to Protestant rule.

As late as 1825, the Protestant hierarchy petitioned the King, saying:

“amongst the ways to convert and civilise the Deluded People, the most necessary have always been thought to be that a sufficient number of English Protestant Schools be erected, wherein the Children of the Irish Natives should be instructed in the English Tongue and in the Fundamental Principles of the True Religion.”

In every case of education prohibition, the end goal was to repress a certain demographic, preventing them from becoming literate and gaining the potential to throw off oppression. Today, the primary groups of people being denied the opportunity to obtain education are female, and the perpetrators in most cases are patriarchal religious leaders. To such leaders, educated women are a threat. Preventing them from learning to read or write also prevents them from becoming independent, and maintains the status quo.

On July 4, 2012, an activist named Farida Afridi was shot and killed at the age of 25. Farida promoted women’s rights and education in Pakistan. On Oct. 9, 2012, a young teenaged girl named Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head on a bus, for daring to attend school in the same country. Another Pakistani girl, Hina Khan, has since received death threats for attending school and speaking out for education rights.

In Afghanistan, female children attending the Zabuli Education Center (the only girls’ school for miles around) must wait until the school administrators test the well water for poison before getting a drink. Another school located in Kabul was targeted with over 100 hand grenades, and girls in the city have been sprayed with acid.

Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as many African countries, do not depend solely on government support for the non-education of women; in many areas the prevailing religion dictates that women remain secluded, illiterate and firmly subjugated. Organizations aimed at improving female education must battle not only government interference but religion driven political organizations, like the Taliban.

According to policy brief titled “Empowering Women, Developing Society: Female Education in the Middle East and North Africa“:

  • As female education rises, fertility, population growth, and infant and child mortality fall and family health improves.
  • increases in girls’ secondary school enrollment are associated with increases in women’s
    participation in the labor force and their contributions to household and national income.
  • Women’s increased earning capacity, in turn, has a positive effect on child nutrition.
  • Children — especially daughters — of educated mothers are more likely to be enrolled in school and to have higher levels of educational attainment.
  • Educated women are more politically active and better informed about their legal rights and how to exercise them.

Access to education and literacy rights continue to be a matter of concern across the globe, as non-compliant countries continue to use non-education as a tool to subjugate large percentages of the population. Breaking this trend is the fastest and most effective way to raise up not only the groups targeted by such restrictions, but to improve the economy and health of the geographical regions thus affected.

Can Big Bird really close the achievement gap?

**The Edvocate is pleased to publish guest posts as way to fuel important conversations surrounding P-20 education in America. The opinions contained within guest posts are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of The Edvocate or Dr. Matthew Lynch.**

A guest post by Sam Chaltain

Don’t get me wrong: I love Big Bird as much as the next guy. But when people start talking about how Sesame Street is just as effective at closing the achievement gap as preschool, I start to worry that we’re becoming enamored with a seductively simple characterization of a deeply complex problem.

To wit: this article, in which we are told the “new findings offer comforting news for parents who put their children in front of public TV every day.” Or this radio story, in which the reporter claims that the show’s heavy dosage of reading and math can yield long-term academic benefits that “close the achievement gap.”

The lure of a set of findings like this is pretty clear: plug your kids into an educational TV show, help them learn their letters and numbers, and voila! No more class inequality. And actually, when one considers how we measure the achievement gap — via the reading and math test scores of schoolchildren — the opportunity to draw a linear line of cause and effect is available to us.

The problem, of course, is that school is about a lot more than literacy and numeracy — and the problems that beset poor children run a lot deeper than the 30 million word gap.

Consider the research around ACE Scores — or the number of adverse childhood experiences young people have — and how much those scores shape a child’s readiness to learn and develop (you can take a short quiz to get your own score here).

Dr. Pamela Cantor has spent a lot of time thinking about ACE Scores. She founded Turnaround for Children to help schools become more attuned to the cognitive, social and emotional needs of kids, and she’s one of many out there who are urging us to understand what the latest research in child development is telling us about what we need to be doing in schools. As she puts it, “The profound impact of extreme stress on a child’s developing brain can have huge implications for the way children learn, the design of classrooms, the preparation of teachers and school leaders, and what is measured as part of the school improvement effort as a whole.”

Consequently, whereas reduced exposure to the building blocks of reading and math is a problem (and one that Sesame Street can clearly help address), the biggest problem for at-risk children — the root cause — has to do with their social and emotional health.

The good news is that although these deficits are profound, they are also predictable, since they stem directly from the effects that stress and trauma have on young people’s brains and bodies. “These stresses impact the development of the brain centers involved in learning,” Cantor explains. “It is because these challenges are knowable and predictable that it is possible to design an intervention to address them. Collectively, they represent a pattern of risk—risk to student development, risk to classroom instruction, and risk to school-wide culture—each of which is capable of derailing academic achievement.”

That means the best way to help poor and at-risk children become prepared for school is by ensuring that high-poverty schools have universal practices and supports that specifically address the impact of adverse childhood experiences. So while I love and appreciate the benefits of Sesame Street, I’d feel better if instead of suggesting that every child needs more time with Grover in the morning, we suggested that every child’s ACE Score needs more weight in determining how schools allocate resources to support their students’ holistic development.

I hope that doesn’t make me seem like Oscar the Grouch.

This post originally appeared on Sam Chaltain’s personal blog, and was republished with permission.

Click here to read all our posts concerning the Achievement Gap.


Sam Chaltain (@samchaltain) is a DC-based writer, filmmaker, and strategic communications consultant. His work focuses on the changing nature of teaching and learning in America, and on how individuals and organizations can find and tell stories that capture the emotional center of an idea; build and sustain an audience of supporters over time (as opposed to merely generating awareness); and leverage both traditional and new media in order to expand an ideological base of support.

Leading Successful HBCUs: Part II

Here is part II of my interview with President Bynum, during which he continues to dispense expert advice on how to lead successful HBCUs.

Q: What do you think is the most important strategy for HBCU’s who are experiencing difficulties, but are looking to right the ship?

A: If we’re true about who we’re serving, first and foremost, we’ve got to find a way to become more affordable for the students we are serving. HBCUs still serve a majority of the black population. The income levels of the families the students are coming from are not at the point of Caucasian-Americans. We’ve got to make sure, if we’re serious about serving that base as well as, of course, reaching out to other races, we’ve got to make sure we’re affordable. That’s first and foremost.

We’ve got to do some different things in order to make the institution more affordable. Let me give a quick “for instance.” In terms of coming in the door as a new president and speaking with the commissioner of the Mississippi Institutes of Higher Learning, Dr. Hank Bounds, the decision was “What is your number one problem? Do I sink money into the budget or to build buildings or do I sink money into making the education more affordable?” The immediate and the easy decision was we’ve got to make the education more affordable. We’ve got to make sure they have access. I can have nice, pretty buildings, but if the price tag is a detriment and it’s keeping students away, then I’ve defeated the purpose.

What we’re trying to do is maintain affordability. We’re looking to keep the tuition rate at Valley flat for the next couple of years. That’s so that, knowing the region we’re in and knowing the student population that is most likely to attend, we’ve got to make sure that affordability is first and foremost.

The other thing, as I mentioned before, is we’ve got to learn to shift with the times. There are a myriad of different things going on in higher ed. We’ve got to provide access to higher education, maintain relevant programs students can immediately use to join the workforce, and of course, we’ve got to make some information technology enhancements in terms of what students are able to do while they’re on the campus and in terms of wireless access and other Internet access, as well as online education, which I mentioned earlier.

And we’ve got to figure out a way to grow our enrollments because, again, the competition is quite steep.

Q: What financial insights can you offer to HBCU administrators? Are there particular strategies that you have found to be effective in raising funds, for instance, growing grass roots support, boosting enrollments or growing endowments?

A: I’m just getting started, so I won’t say a whole lot about fund raising, but there are some key points. The first is we’ve got to be very good stewards of what we do currently have.

Unfortunately, HBCUs, because of our lack of infrastructure in some of the key areas, specifically development and advancement, we haven’t done as good a job in terms of tracking gifts and thanking people for the gifts that they do already give. You would be surprised, of course, what a letter will do in terms of encouraging a person to continue to give; whereas, if a person doesn’t receive acknowledgement, they’re likely to be a one-time donor only. That’s the first thing. We’ve got to be very good stewards of the resources that we currently have.

The second is we’ve got to produce happy students. We’ve got to make sure we’re getting back to our foundation – our roots – and really nurturing students. I know we’re no longer in loco parentis like we used to be. But HBCUs have a history and we’ve got to get back to that nurturing environment where we’re producing happy students. There are too many students who are leaving HBCUs who are mad. They’re mad because processes and procedures were not in place or people did not treat them with the respect they thought they deserved based on the investment they were giving.

That’s why that student-centered approach I’m talking about bringing to Valley is so important. We’ve got to produce happy graduates. When student are happy, they recruit for you in terms of bringing other students to the institution. They talk very positively about their own institution. That shows when they’re on the job in their specified work career. And then, of course, they’re in a position to give back. They’re more apt to give back if they’re happy. We’ve got to make sure of that.

In terms of endowment, that’s got to be a major focus of HBCUs because of state funding, we’re simply not going to get more. As you know, state institutions are pulling back on the amount of funding they’re giving to higher institutions. As a result, we’ve got to make sure that our endowments are growing, as well as our enrollments are growing. What the state systems are saying is, “As a state, we’re suffering for lack of income. We can’t continue to give more.” Therefore, we’ve got to come up with different revenue streams. For institutes of higher education, enrollment is the primary revenue stream, but again we’ve got to continue to try and build our endowments so that there is some longevity for the institution as well as some monies that are continuing to repeat themselves each and every year.

Finally, we’ve just got to think about producing, as I said, those happy graduates. We’ve got to get HBCU graduates to pound their chest more and be proud of the institution that they graduated from when they’re on the job, when they’re in the workforce doing some great things. We need them putting those Valley license plates on their cars, or whatever institution they graduated from. Really showing off their degrees in their offices and homes and workplaces, showing the kind of pride that we need in our own institutions.

We see plenty of that, but we need even more. I need Valley grads who are putting Valley flags on their cars and not Mississippi State or Ole Miss flags on their cars. I know that doesn’t happen very often, but we need to pound our chests and be very proud about the institutions that we’re graduating from.

Q: What do you think is the future potential of HBCU’s? What trends might they capitalize on in order to continue to bring value to the higher education community?

A: I truly believe HBCUs will be around for a long time. The trend HBCUs can build on are maintaining the public square, the quality educational programs and to become more self-sustainable. What we’ll probably see, realistically, because of what is happening in the government with Pell and PLUS Loans, the competition, what you’ll probably see is a series of mergers and closures. You’re going to see the survival of the strong, and HBCUs are going to be around for a long time. I just think we’re probably going to see, over the course of the next 25 to 50 years, either some consolidations or some closures of those who simply aren’t able to compete with some of the large institutions. HBCUs as a whole, there will be a group of HBCUs around for a very, very, very, very long time.

Q: What advice would you give someone who has recently been appointed to their first college/university presidency?

A: Actually, I’m going to do two things. I’m not sure if you’ve seen Dr. Charlie Nelms, who recently wrote an article for the Huffington Post. If you would, when you get an opportunity, pull up that article. It was November 18 when they published it. The title of the article is “An Open Letter to Recently Appointed HBCU Presidents.” He did a good job. A lot of what I would offer in terms of advice, Dr. Nelms very succinctly offered in that particular article.

But what I would say in addition to what Dr. Nelms has in that article is, first and foremost, respect the institution that you’re coming into. When you are coming into an institution, you need to be as clear as you possibly can get in terms of what you’re coming in to — the history, the tradition, the region, the area, the finances. Learn as much about that institution as you can.

What happens, unfortunately, is too many folks just want to be a president. One of the things I’ve always prided myself on is trying to only apply to those institutions for which I think there is a good fit. I’ve actually only applied to a very few. That’s the main thing. You have to respect the institution that you’re going to lead and because many of us simply want to be a college president simply to say they were a college president, it wasn’t the best fit. They didn’t have the respect for the institution that really should have been there from day one.

That’s what I would say. Make sure the institution you’re going into is the right, correct fit, and that you have a great deal of respect for that institution and the history and tradition of that institution. One of the first things you can do, of course, is turn people off when you come in with a bunch of ideas that shows disrespect for that history and tradition and culture. I’m always very mindful as I’m doing things early on.

As I mentioned earlier, the One Goal, One Team, One Valley, that came internally. I didn’t need to ask people to learn something new. What I chose to do was elevate something that already existed within the culture. That’s important to respect.
The second thing is to be approachable and to be accessible. Don’t get me wrong. Obviously the work in the day of a president is too busy to entertain anybody and everybody who wants to talk. But what happens, as I’ve mentioned to other folks before, the job of the president is to get out and about and to become the number one cheerleader for that institution.

What I’ve found and what you will find, if you are out and about and the number one cheerleader for the institution, is some of those conversations that people want to have with you in the office, they can have with you while you’re out and about, when you’re at a ball game, when you’re at an event in the community. If that person needs to talk to you, they’ve got you. When you’re accessible and visible, they’re able to do those things.

The other thing I think, of course, is really bearing good fruit early on here at Valley is to be transparent. There’s a lot of information, and HBCUs have been historically bad about this. We hoard in the top levels all kinds of information that people need to know. People need to know the financial situation of an institution. They need to know the enrollment situation. They need to know what you’re facing so that decisions that they make and the additional work they do is in line with what’s happening, the vision for the institution. Transparency is something that HBCUs are notoriously bad about.

I’m very proud to say that I learned from one of my mentors and it’s already bearing all kinds of fruit here at Valley. People are being presented with information that was before inaccessible to them or they didn’t know about. We’re saying, “This is the real story. This is the real deal. This is what we’re facing. This is what we’re up against. We need everybody to put a paddle in the river and we need everybody be paddling as fast as they can and as hard as they can in the same, unified direction, so that we can move the institution forward.” It’s hard to do that when you don’t have the information. Transparency is one of those things I would definitely encourage new presidents to be and to do.

Q: How about an individual who aspires to become a college/university president one day?

A: One of the main things is to find a mentor. Find someone who is already in the role, who has been in the role or who aspires and has a realistic opportunity.
I wasn’t in a hurry to be a college president. I wanted to make sure, first and foremost, that I had the skill set that I would need once the opportunity came, and then of course, as I mentioned earlier that it was the right fit. Again, don’t be in a hurry. The fit and being prepared for all that the role is going to throw at you is important.

I mentioned finding a mentor. I had very good mentors throughout my career, from Dr. Doris Walker Weathers at Clark Atlanta University, to the best mentor I had, Dr. Ivory Nelson, who was president of Lincoln University. Find someone that you are able to share that future desire with and then ask that person. Ask that person if they would be willing to share insights that you are not going to gain unless you’re actually sitting in the chair.

Before I took the job at Lincoln, I asked Dr. Nelson point blank, “Sir, I want to be a college president. I have other offers, but I’m going to the college or university whose president says they are willing to mentor me and prepare me to do exactly what they’re doing.” Dr. Nelson accepted that and did it for nine years, really sharing the business of higher education with me and explaining, “When you made that decision, what went into making that decisions? What did you consider? What did you take into account? What did you have to look at?” Those things you will never know until you’re sitting in the chair, he actually helped explain those to me during those nine years.

Now, when I make decisions, I know what to take into account, who to take into account, all of those things – who to call, who to give an advance notice to before I actually make that decision. That tutelage of being able to sit at his feet those nine years was huge.

The last thing I would say is any time you get an opportunity to take advantage of one of these programs for presidential hopefuls, whether that’s the Harvard program or the ACE program, or numerous others offered by different associations. Make sure that you take full advantage of those.

In my case, I looked at two slices of the pie: student affairs and enrollment management. Of course, being a president, you’ve got to look at the entire pie. The one I had the opportunity to go in was the NAFEO Kellogg Leadership Fellowship Program modeled after the year-long ACE program. They give you an exposure to people who sat in the chair and had been in the job and could provide you some insights that will help you to avoid some of the pitfalls early on during your office tenure. That’s extremely important, as well.

This concludes our interview. Thank you President Bynum, for your insight and for taking the time to do this interview.

Read all of our posts about HBCUs by clicking here.

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