In addition to my primary job as a research scientist, my second job is as an adjunct professor of mathematics at Central State in Wilberforce Ohio. I don't like Central State--I love it! The reason is that I feel that I can make a difference in the lives of young people, many of whom were uncertain about attending college, and who find themselves once they attend Central State. This is an incredible opportunity, and I hope that Historically Black Colleges and Universities--like Central State--continue to be supported nationwide.
There is an ongoing debate at both the national level as well as the state level about whether there should be such a thing.
Central State was once part of Wilberforce College, but they split into two institutions in 1887. Wilberforce University is supported by the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and Central State University is supported by the State of Ohio.
Some educators ask whether it makes sense to use state tax dollars to support a historically black university. Is that in some way discriminatory? The short answer is that there are no race factors in the acceptance process for CSU. I think a better question, however, is what the purpose of education is. Aren't we trying to train people in our state to become better more productive workers, and to get jobs? And does Central State appeal to enough people who want to go to school there? Will they be better off if they are involved in higher education at Central State?
The answer to those questions is definitely, unequivocally yes. There are many fantastic schools in Ohio, but for a substantial number of people I have no doubt that Central State is the best alternative.
Although you shouldn't get the idea that everyone at Central State comes from a disadvantaged inner city background, a lot of our students do. Many are the first in their family to ever attend college. In many cases we are attempting to break the cycle of disregard for the importance of education. Thus for many families we are helping to create a culture of higher education for the first time.
Let me put it this way. My own kids come from a culture in which Daddy went to college, and so did Grandpa and Grandma and even Great Grandpa and Great Grandma. They have an excellent chance for academic success and a good job in adulthood. But it's not necessarily the same for someone that grows up in predominantly African American West Dayton.
As a society, we could just throw up our hands and say, "Well we're sorry, West Dayton kids. You just don't have the money, the grades or the test scores or other academic achievements. And it's your own fault. So, we're going to spend all our money on rich kids from the 'burbs, so college is not for you."
Some people would say that's exactly the right approach. But to me the right answer is to continue to encourage everyone in our society to maximize their potential and to improve their ability to work and to contribute to our society. It does make a difference to get people into higher education. Their lives will be more productive with college than they would be without it. Or, from the State's perspective, you're going to get more tax revenue by having more college educated workers in your state than if you don't reach out. We're also going to make a difference in the communities and help to develop depressed locations such as West Dayton. It will make a big difference.
In particular a summer program called Upward Bound made a huge impression on me. In Upward Bound, high school students come to college and are exposed to college, usually for the first time. The program does not target the best students, but rather focuses on students that have potential but who might not be in a family or economic situation that encourages college. I was amazed at the change in attitude that occurred with these kids. Many were indifferent to the educational process when they came in, but by the time they left virtually all of them were determined to study hard and go to college--and not necessarily Central State. Many hoped to apply to Ohio State or even some private colleges.
The Upward Bound program makes an incredible difference for this group of students. Being able to attend classes at an HBCU like Central State was unquestionably the best place for them to be exposed to Upward Bound. I'm glad to have played a small part in it. I think a few kids learned a little about math by attending my class. I hope to see a few of them again in a few years when they sign up for my class at Central State!
If anything, I would like to see more programs like Upward Bound that get high school students in touch with the college process. Too many of our young people are not exposed to college life and never consider entering college at all. For too many Americans, colleges are little more than athletic clubs to be seen on TV. But in fact, education is where it's at! This is our hope for the future. We're going to have a better future with higher education than without it.
I think it is a great idea to locate a branch campus in West Dayton. It's on Germantown Pike, in one of the neighborhoods that was severely damaged in the riots of the late 1960's and which is only now recovering. I predict Central State will become a pillar of the West Dayton community in time.
I might add that I actually went to school not far from there, at United Theological Seminary which at the time was located on Harvard Blvd. Since that time, the property has been taken over by Omega Baptist Church, with our former Dean, Daryl Ward, as the Senior Pastor. I might not be the greatest churchperson, but I had the greatest education possible, and I will always be grateful to UTS as well as the community.
Of course, not everyone who is given the opportunity to attend college will run with it. One of the things that gets me down is the large number of students that basically flunk themselves. I have almost never had a student fail my class who attended every class and turned in each homework assignment. Nevertheless, university-wide more than half the college freshmen do not complete college, and many students wipe out in freshman mathematics. I don't believe it's a lack of ability. More than anything else it is a lack of vision, and a lack of belief in the possibility of academic success and future success as a person. Sometimes, young people buy into the critics and the people who say they can't do it and that they're no good, instead of listening to those who say that they CAN succeed.
My biggest task as an educator is not to transmit information about factoring binonial equations, but to help people to believe in themselves. Maybe it sounds corny, but it is absolutely true.
Central State University is making a big difference in the lives of its students (not to mention its adjunct faculty!). I believe it occupies an important niche in our educational system, and I hope it continues to be strong force to enrich people's lives, as well as the community it serves.