BLAZING A TRAIL
“Higher education is about opportunity. It’s about enhancing individuals’ abilities to make a positive impact on the world,” says Ayana Hernandez, Associate Vice Chancellor for University Relations at North Carolina Central University (NCCU). “We were the first public liberal arts college for African Americans in the US, and we were founded to provide opportunity regardless of background.”
Established in 1909 and opened for the first class of students in 1910 as the National Religious Training School and Chautauqua, NCCU today offers bachelor’s degrees and postgraduate programmes to a diverse student population. Its Graduate School alone offers close to 40 programmes across two colleges (in arts and sciences, and in behavioural and social science) and four schools (in business, information and library science, education, and law).
Joint master’s degrees are also available, enabling students to gain two postgrad degrees concurrently. Malikah Hall, for example, graduated in 2015 with a joint master’s from the School of Law and the School of Library Science. “Joint master’s graduates are very marketable,” says Dr Jaleh Rezaie, Dean of Graduate Studies, adding that NCCU’s School of Library Science alone produces more African American librarians than any other programme in the country.
Hernandez concurs.“Many of our students have gone on to be trailblazers in their field,” she says. Malikah, for example, is now Research Librarian at Cornell University Law Library. “Employability is a priority at NCCU,” she adds.
The university’s PhD programme – an interdisciplinary bioscience course combining chemistry, biology and pharmaceutical science – was developed specifically with employability in mind, targeting the lack of minorities with PhDs in the STEM area (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) and related workforce. “We are located in one of the best areas in the US for research,” says Dr Rezaie. In addition to NCCU’s two Research Institutes (BRITE, which focuses on bio-manufacturing and technology, and the Biomedical Biotechnology Research Institute) the university falls within the North Carolina research triangle. “This brings huge opportunity,” says Hernandez, noting strengths in pharma and technology, and a strong culture of entrepreneurship. The latter is demonstrated by NCCU’s MBA programme and the School of Business’s engagement with the local American Underground@Main programme, which provides co-working office space for startup businesses. “There is so much growth and development locally, with companies relocating their headquarters within five minutes of our campus,” says Hernandez, pointing to the internship opportunities this offers.
Links with other universities and institutions provide further opportunities. A partnership with the Law Library of Congress, for example, enables students on the joint Juris Doctor/Master of Library Science degree programme to intern at the largest and most prestigious law library in the world. The university also has strong ties with the School of Law Clinics, with the local private university Duke and with its sister institutions within the University of North Carolina system.
“Students can benefit from a programme, presentation or talk every week from within our network,” says Dr Rezaie. “Last year, for example, a professor from Boston University came to NCCU to talk about Ebola. These experiences allow our students to engage with thought leaders and experts.”
NCCU’s motto is Truth and Service, and this is central to an institution that was founded to benefit its local community. Established specifically to create opportunities for African Americans, the university continues to deliver excellence to a diverse student body to this day. “It’s a place where people can grow, regardless of their background,” says Malikah Hall. “It encourages you to believe in yourself and go for your goals.”