Historically Black Colleges and Universities: Tradition and Progress in Science

A pivotal point in my life came in April 2000. This was a time full of painstaking decisions, which would ultimately determine my future. The question of where I would spend the next 4 years consumed my thoughts, ?Do I choose a large university or a small liberal arts college? In-state or somewhere in the Central Time Zone?" In the end, I chose to apply to several undergraduate institutions, including Emory University, Morehouse College, the University of Maryland, the University of Rochester, and Xavier University of Louisiana. In this personal testimony, I will discuss how I selected my undergraduate institution and the benefits I?ve since realized of attending an HBCU.

Choosing the Right Institution

I was accepted into all of the schools I applied to. My choices were an interesting blend of top-tier universities and HBCUs, all with legacies of producing great scientists. In search of an institution, I wanted to select a school that would provide me with the best resources to major in the natural sciences and that would eventually allow me to pursue a research career in either government or industry. Thus, I decided to attend Morehouse College.

My decision to attend Morehouse College was anything but easy. After much distress, consideration, and listening to the opinions of many friends, family, and teachers, my decision was made a bit easier. However, the most influential was the experience my brother acquired at Morgan State University, another HBCU. I longed for a home away from home like the one that my brother had found in Baltimore, a supportive environment not only in my peer group, but also with adults, faculty, and staff.

A Supportive Environment

At Morehouse, I have found nurturing faculty, ambitious students, and a varied curriculum all inclusive of my cultural heritage. I am being prepared for not only my career and graduate pursuits, but also life. At Morehouse, a plethora of opportunities have been afforded to me that I doubt would have been provided at majority institutions. Starting in my freshmen year, I have performed biomedical research with a faculty mentor, presented my research at national conferences, met with graduate school recruiters, and been counseled by tenured professors who genuinely take an interest in my performance. I attended a majority high school and was discouraged by some teachers and faculty to attend an HBCU. They shared sentiments that other options were a "better choice."

Networking and Professional Contacts

Through my contact with other students at Texas Southern University, Fisk University, Bennett College, and many other HBCUs, I have realized that my positive experience is not unique to Morehouse. My institution has various partnerships with institutions all dedicated to improving the participation of underrepresented students in graduate studies and Ph.D. programs. These partnerships include the Leadership Alliance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience. My involvement with these organizations has enriched my experience at Morehouse. Other HBCUs offer similar experiences through partnerships with the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Institutes of Health, and/or the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, all of which provide undergraduate research opportunities and also financial support.

Most of the nation's HBCUs were founded in the 1800s after the Civil War and recognized the need to educate the population of freedmen. HBCUs continue to educate and produce graduates that significantly impact every field of science. Some of these pioneers include Jehu Callis Hunter, zoology; Samuel Lee Kountz Jr., medicine; Katherine G. Johnson, mathematics; Henry R. C. McBay, chemistry; and Walter E. Massey, physics.

The Future

Considering my own experience over these past 2 years and the potential of success made evident by these early pioneers, Morehouse was indeed the best choice for me. As a biology major, I sincerely believe that Morehouse is preparing me to pursue my goals: a career in epidemiology and a future working to improve the health all people.

Timothy Cunningham is a second-year student at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. For further information, please send e-mail to Timothy at tjurel@aol.com.

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