- Author: Pamela Kan-Rice
Undergraduates from Historically Black Colleges and Universities visit UC for summer session
Na'Zyia Dowdy-Arnold and Destinee S. Whitaker, both of Spelman College, Christopher Bass of Morehouse College, and Carlos Jackson of Tuskegee University spent the summer getting research experience with UC Berkeley scientists. The four undergraduates from Historically Black Colleges and Universities were participating in the UC Berkeley Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management HBCU Environmental Scholars Program.
“The program aims to facilitate two-way learning while fostering preparedness and belonging for HBCU students interested in graduate school at UC Berkeley,” said co-founder Rosalie Zdzienicka Fanshel, UC Berkeley doctoral candidate.
Now in its second year, the program, was co-founded by UC Berkeley professor Tim Bowles who also co-directs the program with Fanshel in cooperation with Tuskegee University and Spelman College faculty members.
“After two years as a mentor in the ESPM/UCB HBCU summer research immersion program, I was thrilled to witness the transformation of students,” said Vernard Lewis, emeritus UC Cooperative Extension entomology specialist. “This transformation included doing high-level science and increasing the feeling of belonging. The current cohort of four HBCU students have immersed themselves in lab and field sciences that include campus and ANR units. The hope is to expand the program and to increase the talent pool of HBCU students for graduate programs and careers at UC and ANR.”
During their two-month program, the students toured the San Joaquin Valley with Fanshel and Kristin Dobbin, UCCE water justice policy and planning specialist at UC Berkeley. They visited Allensworth, a utopian agricultural community focused on self-reliance in Tulare County founded in 1908 by African Americans, and UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier, where they met Houston Wilson, UCCE entomology specialist.
Near the end of their stay, Lewis and his wife, Lisa Kala, who held administrative, research and teaching positions in UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Education for over 40 years, hosted a backyard barbecue at their Hayward home for the students to meet Black UC faculty, administrators and alumni.
Lewis assembled African American friends Mary Blackburn, Gloria Burkhalter, Bill Stevens, Bilal Shabazz and his daughter Amani, Fred Logan, Ben Tucker, Elize Brown, Gregory Bradley, Vincent Duncan, Maria Shalita, Carol Chambers-Blockton, Jariel Arvin, Frank McPherson and Charles Clary – some retired and others still enjoying long careers – to meet the young scholars on July 24. Harry LeGrande, emeritus UC Berkeley vice chancellor of student affairs who served in higher education for 45 years, joined the group by Zoom.
McPherson, who retired from UC ANR as UCCE director for the Bay Area in February, cooked up hot links, seafood gumbo and black-eyed peas, served with salad and fresh fruit for the occasion.
“It's okay to be different,” Lewis, the first Black entomologist hired at UC Berkeley, told the students. “You're not alone. We're all with you,” he added, gesturing to the older guests, who had described their professional journeys and how they navigated sometimes unfriendly environments. Some had graduated from college amid the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
Blackburn recalled being offered one of four coveted spots in UC Berkeley's new Master of Public Health Nutrition – Dietetic Internship program after graduating from Tuskegee University in 1963. It didn't seem feasible to move since her husband owned his business in Atlanta and they had four young children. But when the Tuskegee University president said she had to go, Blackburn understood that opportunity was not just about her and three days later she boarded a plane to California. In 1968, Blackburn became one of the first Registered Dietitians in the U.S. and completed her Ph.D. in human nutrition and health planning and administration at UC Berkeley in 1974.
“Find your allies; find your advocates,” Blackburn, UC Cooperative Extension's community nutrition and health advisor for Alameda County for the past 33 years, advised the students.
After the barbecue, the students began collecting email addresses and making connections with their new allies on LinkedIn.
“During our feedback sessions with the students, they expressed their appreciation to all those in attendance, especially Vernard Lewis, who orchestrated the event,” said McPherson. “One of the most important takeaways from the event was their desire to have this type of event with accomplished Black administrators and professionals continue to be part of the programming while at Berkeley.
“They also suggest that these events take place earlier, so that they might take advantage of the knowledge and experience these Black professionals bring to the table, not only as they return to their individual institutions and career paths, but also have access to this network while in the Bay Area.”
A week earlier, during a lunch with Blackburn and Lewis, the students had said they appreciated meeting the two accomplished Black scientists and wished they could meet more. That comment spurred Lewis and Blackburn to organize the barbecue. Despite the short notice, several of their Black colleagues attended. “They showed up because they care,” Lewis said.
They will continue to modify the program based on feedback from the students.
The first year of the program was funded by UC Berkeley's Berkeley Food Institute and Spelman College. The second year was funded by the UC Berkeley Office of Graduate Diversity; Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management; and donations from other campus programs and individuals. Each student receives a $5,000 stipend, room and board and travel.
Bowles and Fanshel have applied for a UC-HBCU initiative grant from UC Office of the President to continue the program for another three years.