Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

'Plugged In' in the Piedmont

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

'Plugged In' in the Piedmont

Article excerpt

Dr. Dorothy Cowser Yancy Johnson C. Smith University

It takes a lot of personal energy to be a college president, especially when one's goal is to achieve more than the status quo. Dr. Dorothy Cowser Yancy has always been known as someone with energy to spare. As the president of Johnson C. Smith University, she's applied that vigor to transforming the small college into one of the most technologically heralded liberal arts institutions in North Carolina. Earlier this year, the school, which promotes itself as the "Laptop University," was named among the 50 Most Wired Small Colleges in the country by Yahoo! Internet Life magazine. (See story, pg. 40.)

"I was determined that my students weren't going to be left behind. They were not going to leave Johnson C. Smith shortchanged," Yancy says of her decision to invest heavily in the university's technology infrastructure. Having come to JCSU from the Georgia Institute of Technology, where she was a professor of labor relations and political science, Yancy was accustomed to operating in a technologically savvy environment. She viewed technology as an essential component of her strategy to improve the caliber of education provided by JCSU.

With buy-in from her faculty, trustees, students and alumni, she led the campus in a two-- year planning effort that resulted in the decision to see that every freshman would receive a laptop upon registration.

"A lot of schools had decided to have (computer) labs," Yancy says. "There's nothing wrong with that, but I felt that because we had infused technology into the curriculum, kids needed to plug in anytime, anywhere."

Perhaps it is Yancy's upbringing on an Alabama farm that gave her an early appreciation for technology and an understanding that it is only as good as the people behind it. From the beginning, JCSU faculty and students have played key roles in the institution's information technology strategy. Together with Yancy and others at the institution, they have ensured that the curriculum is what drives the technology and not the other way around.

"I'm an academician at heart," Yancy says. "I'm concerned about the academic program and whether (the technology) is helping our students."

Evidence that the school's academic program has improved can be found in several places. Not only has the excellence of JCSU's faculty increased- 81 percent now have terminal degrees, and one received a MacArthur Foundation "Genius Award" in 1996 -but also the number of students applying for admission has tripled. This year, the university jumped into the top tier of U.S. News & World Reports ranking of liberal arts institutions in the South (ranked 25th), and in 1999 and 2001 it emerged among the top 25 in Black Enterprise s listing of the "Top 50 Colleges for African Americans. …

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