Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

The New Faces of College

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

The New Faces of College

Article excerpt

Last year marked York College's thirtieth anniversary. This spring, the college, which is part of the City University of New York (CUNY) system, passed yet another milestone. For the first time, it graduated more than 1,000 students, about 75 percent of whom were people of color.

The commencement address at York was delivered this year by Dr. John Hope Franklin, professor emeritus at Duke University and one of the college's founders. During his remarks, Franklin spoke about the early vision he had for York as the provider of a "first-rate public education" and how that vision has been realized.

"[York College's] curriculum represents a range of interests and activities unique not only in this community but in higher education in this city and across the land. Its student body, eager to take full advantage of its offerings, runs the gamut in age, tastes, academic goals, and cultural interests," Franklin said.

Each year, the "Top 100" editions of Black Issues In Higher Education present a statistical portrait of where students of color emerge on the higher education degree recipient landscape. But the numbers only reveal part of the picture of educational achievement drawn by thousands of students, some of whom have overcome profound obstacles.

So this year, in addition to presenting the numbers, Black Issues has decided to highlight some of the students responsible for the growing degree surge. What follows are just a few of the personal stories behind the numbers. Each of the students featured is from York College because York seems emblematic of the new, increasingly colorful, face of higher education -- the urban public college open to a wide swath of students, from recent high school graduates to older workers looking to improve their job skills. York College is ranked tenth among the top fifty non-HBCUs that awarded bachelor's degrees to African Americans in 199506 (see chart page 42), Many students who enter York needing remediation leave to become lawyers, computer professionals, research scientists teachers, and doctors. All aspire toward a better life. And, as their stories reveal, their success at York College is making the realization of those aspirations possible.

A Convenient, Affordable Option

When Tamara Thomas graduated from high school, she was accepted into a pharmacy program, "but the tuition was too high." So she settled on York College, which was convenient to her home in the New York City borough of Queens.

"[My chemistry professor] talked me into being a chemistry major," Thomas recalls.

Her involvement with the Minority Biomedical Research Support (MBRS) program, funded by the National Institutes of Health, led to work in the chemistry lab on research projects. A year later she switched labs on the York College campus and began working on nucleoside synthesis -- work that involves potential antivirus and anticancer agents.

About to enter her senior year with a 3.9 grade point average, the twenty-year-old recently received a full scholarship from the American Chemical Society and is planning on graduate study in pharmacology at either Yale or Purdue University, One of her biology professors, Dr. Leslie Lewis, cites Thomas as an example of "a student who is extremely talented and who because of [MBRS] was convinced to go into research. She will do very very well. …

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