The Education Trust, an organization that promotes high academic achievement for students at all levels, recently recognized Old Dominion University as one of the nation’s top 15 higher education institutions with African-American student graduation rates that were significantly higher than averages for comparable higher education institutions.
Sara Hunter, a recent Old Dominion communications and marketing graduate, is just one of many beneficiaries of University initiatives that provide students with academic and social support as well as an environment that values diversity and inclusion.
“For me, as an African-American woman, ODU made me feel comfortable to be myself. I had a support system to motivate me to keep striving and be resilient when going after my goals, ” Hunter said.
Hunter had a unique opportunity to intern both at WVEC Channel 13, in Norfolk, and Old Dominion’s Office of Strategic Communication and Marketing, while being mentored by Giovanna Genard, the University’s assistant vice president for strategic communication and marketing. After graduation, Hunter pursued a career in communications at the U.S. Department of Defense in Washington, D.C.
“My advisors have encouraged me to work twice as hard so I could stand out in my field of study,” she said. “That gave me the push.”
Nationally, 41 percent of African-American students graduate within six years from a four-year college or university in the United States, compared to 63 percent of white students, according to the Education Trust study. The reasons for the gap vary from financial challenges to lack of academic preparation.
Johnny Young, assistant vice president for student engagement and enrollment services (SEES) and an advisor for Old Dominion University’s Brother 2 Brother chapter, said the University makes it a priority to bridge the gap.
Brother 2 Brother is a national organization that mentors and provides support to young minority males. Although the chapter is relatively new at ODU, Young said he expects a positive return on the investment.
“By having a Brother 2 Brother chapter at ODU, I expect the retention and graduation rates to increase further,” he said.
Young added that diversity is one of the top reasons students cite for attending Old Dominion.
“When I think about the African-American student population, Latino and some of the other historical disadvantaged groups, it’s diversity that attracts them to ODU,” he said. “They see that this is a place where minority students can thrive; they know they are supported and they know people understand their challenges and backgrounds.”
Other initiatives to help students achieve success include ODU’s “First-Gen to Faculty” program and “Mane Connect.” First-Gen to Faculty brings together faculty members who were first in their families to graduate from college with first-generation students for mentoring and group meetings. Mane Connect helps freshmen identify and meet their goals while pairing them with academic coaches.
By Noell Saunders