What challenges did you face trying to get to college?
The challenges I faced trying to get to college, well where can I began. Throughout my childhood, I‘ve had an uninvolved parent. My mother didn’t care if I went to school, gotten good grades or whether or not I was respecting my teachers. In my mind I knew I didn’t want to be my mom, nor my dad, so at the age of 14 I decided to get a job. The job was basically a scapegoat to get out of the house but also to buy my mother’s love. I spent years pleasing my mother until I was forced to enter the real world. Being homeless for a year became very stressful but school was all I had, so I kept pushing myself. After a year, I found a job. I volunteered first, I gave it my all and then was hired permanently after a month. That job, led me to two other jobs. Up until about two years ago, I worked three jobs, and Iwas a part-time student. I had to survive.
Why did you choose Johnson C. Smith University?
Johnson C. Smith University wasn’t a school I thought about at all. I didn’t even think about leaving home until the principal at the elementary school I worked for, approached me and stated “Ms. Harris, you should get out of California, you will have better opportunities”. I looked at him and laugh. I told him there is no way I can leave California. California is my home, I have established so much. That same night I kept thinking what would I do? How will I survive? I have to start from nothing, and I did’t think I could handle that again but then I told myself it wouldn’t hurt if I just apply. I cried every night until I left, I talked to the principals niece for a month, to make sure I wasn’t making a bad choice. All in all I came to JCSU blind, and at the end of the day it was better for me. Yes I have gotten a lot of opportunities and it has given me the opportunity to focus more on school.
What challenges have you have faced since being here, other than financial aid?
Since being at Johnson C. Smith, I have racked up more loans then I ever have in my life. I never thought going to an out-of-state school, especially a private one, was so expensive. When I began JCSU, I didn’t know anyone or anything. I don’t have any family here so I felt really lost. Even though I’ve been an independent student since I started college, its nothing like being familiar to your surroundings. I also had to deal with set backs when I was accepted to JCSU. I entered as a freshmen despite being in school for a couple years in California, delaying graduation.
By Hanoi Darden
Class of 2013
President, Student Government Association
Some unique qualities about JCSU that help students stay and graduate are the small class sizes, close knit family environment, professor relationships and the great sources available to us such as; math lab, writing lab, speech lab, foreign language lab. Also, Career services is a great resource to help students because they have a lot of information regarding jobs during a student’s college tenure and potential careers for life after college, graduate school guidance and a resume clinic.
Some challenges that have been experienced or seen that has put graduation in jeopardy are financial aid which hinders some from validating, misinformed advisors who give students the wrong information about classes and requirements, high faculty turnover and personal challenges that occur in a student’s life.
As JCSU moves through this process to improve student retention and graduation, SGA can help by bridging the communication gap between the students and administration. SGA can also remain open to students’ questions, comments and concerns, and continue to promote the on campus academic help such as Academic Center of Excellence (ACE) and Student Support Services (SSS).
Some opportunities that are available now that the University may not be taking full advantage of is funding for the different academic programs (Student Support Services and each academic department). If there were better funding, there may be more programs and students may be able to receive financial help outside of financial aid.
Charlotte’s REEL Urban Network to the Democratic National Convention, or RUN-DNC, is an ongoing, student-driven project that captures the stories of current students and recent graduates in a compelling series of videos. Click here to view the website to learn more about the RUN-DNC project and the history of JCSU. To see the stories told by students, click here.
Kim Jones is the Site Coordinator and College Advisor for Communities In Schools of Charlotte-Mecklenburg. She is also an alumnus from the graduating class of 1989. She provides her perspective on her experience at Johnson C. Smith University and how alumni can help current students succeed.
Why did you choose to attend JCSU?
I chose to attend JCSU because my mother, aunt, uncle, and cousins attended and I wanted to continue the tradition. In addition, my educational environment growing up has always been predominately white and I wanted and felt I needed the experience of an HBCU to prepare me for the “real” world.
What are some unique qualities about JCSU that help students stay and graduate?
- Because of the small environment, you can have a one-on-one relationship with professors
- Supportive academic programs.
Throughout your time at JCSU, what challenge(s) have you experienced or seen that have put graduation in jeopardy?
I only experienced a few personal issues that related to tenured professors who very clearly showed that they were not student oriented and had no interest in helping the student be successful. It was also evident that in a few situations, faculty did not want to take responsibility for their mistakes/bad decisions, therefore, affecting the student’s chances of graduating.
What can alumni do to help JCSU as it moves through this process to improve student retention and graduation?
Develop an Alumni Mentoring Program and providing a mentor for each in-coming freshman for the entire 4 years.
By Devo’n Williams
Class of 2010
Founder, Homeless but Not Powerless
I graduated from Benedictine High School in 2006 with no honors to my name and a 1.9 grade point average to match. In 2010 I graduated from Johnson C. Smith University summa cum laude with a 3.8 grade point average and more honors (locally, statewide, and nationally) than I could hold in two hands. “What happened in those intervening four years?” you ask. The answer is nothing short of remarkable. A transformation that I believe could only have taken place at, my alma mater, JCSU.
When I arrived at Smith, a small four year private university, before I ever turned in a paper or even attended a class I was on academic probation. My past had followed me. Academic probation was a condition of my acceptance. Which I later learned was the case for many in my cohort who failed to matriculate through all four years.
I saw it as an opportunity and I was grateful because I knew how it was supposed to go. I remember reflecting toward the end of my senior year that kids like me were supposed to stay home and go to a junior college, community college, or just try to find work wherever we could. Lucky for me I had a mother who saw a future for me that was bigger than what Cleveland could offer without a college degree. She pressed me to apply to the places my friends who were seniors the previous year had applied and were accepted. Out of all of them JCSU seemed most like to give me an opportunity to receive a quality education.
I knew little about the school other than it was a historically black school. This was a foreign concept to me even though I lived in a black community, because my educational environments had always been multi-cultural or majority white. I was honestly intrigued, excited and inspired by the concept of an institution built to uplift African-Americans through education. I was enamored with the history of the university, built by former slaves and financially supported by both blacks (successful alumni, The United Negro College Fund) and whites (Johnson Crayne Smith, James B Duke).
My aunt also had a successful real-estate law practice in Charlotte and offered me steady well-paying work if I came. Receiving my acceptance letter from Smith had me packing my bags energized to try this school thing one more time. At a time when I had never been more disenchanted with formal education.
You know how they say college is different than high school? Success or failure at one doesn’t necessarily dictate performance at the other. Well this was especially the case for me. I blossomed under pedagogy structure that didn’t send me to detention for debating with the instructor. Much of my poor performance in school was a direct result of being disciplined for disagreements with teachers. As a “child” I was expected to back down and bow to the wisdom of authority regardless of whether it made sense to me. When I arrived at Smith Professors were willing to support their arguments and challenged us to challenge them. I thrived where alternative points of view were curated into well-reasoned arguments.
This is my story on how Johnson C. Smith University saved my life in a way only it could. I needed a new environment. I needed to be taught a different way. Most importantly I needed the high expectations coupled with professors that cared.