December 2010
 
Faculty and Staff Take Truth and Service to Heart
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By Ron Harris, Director of Communications, Office of University Communications  
Karine Sewell and mentee Danian Short demonstrate the rich tradition of mentoring at Howard. (Ceasar)
When Karine Sewell, interim senior director for Development and Alumni Relations, contemplated whether to take in the friend of her eldest daughter two years ago, she weighed a story that sounded similar to a chapter in her own life.

Danian Short’s mother had relocated to North Carolina and left him in the care of his stepfather, who could no longer provide housing for the two of them. So, for Short, who had graduated from high school the previous year, each night was an adventure. One night he would sleep on a friend’s sofa, another on a relative’s couch and another in someone’s extra bedroom.

Sewell, also director of development for the College of Medicine, had been there. Her single mother died when she was six. And for the next three years, she and her older sister were shuffled from family to family around Louisiana before they finally found a permanent home with her 23-year-old, newly wed aunt in Houston.

“There’s nothing worse than not knowing where you’re going to sleep at night,” Sewell says. “The only thing close is sleeping somewhere that you know you’re unwanted or uninvited. Nothing goes right if all day long you’re worried whether you’re going to have somewhere to sleep or if your clothes will be packed when you come back home so you can go somewhere else.”

So, Sewell took the young man in and became his mentor, a rich tradition among Howard University faculty and staff. “I don’t think an 18-year-old is able to face the world without a stable role model,” she says. “Fortunately, he was receptive.”

Sewell and Short’s story, while unique, is representative of the informal and formal mentoring that occurs at Howard. Faculty and staff frequently seek ways to mentor young people, whether it’s on or off campus. While January is National Mentoring Month, Howard employees find ways throughout the year to mentor the next generation.

“It is our responsibility to help young people as we were helped when we were growing up.”

“Mentoring is part of the Howard University fabric,” says Melbourne Cummings, Ph.D., professor of Communications and Culture in the School of Communications, who has been mentoring Howard students and young people through her church for more than 30 years. Cummings co-founded the Rites of Passage program for young people at her church through the National Council of Negro Women more than 20 years ago with Judi Moore Latta, Ph.D., executive director of the Office of University Communications and Marketing.

“It makes a difference in young people’s lives,” Cummings says. “They look at us and decide they want to be like us or decide they don’t want to be like us.”


Academic Guidance

In the School of Social Work, Prof. Tricia Bent-Goodley, Ph.D., provides her own brand of mentoring through The Writing Circle, a monthly gathering that supports knowledge development and scholarship among doctoral and master’s students seeking help in learning how to publish, present and advance scholarly work.

Approximately eight to 12 students gather at the school, with the support of faculty, to discuss writing and how to get published. During the meetings, which are open to all students and faculty, participants discuss writing for potential publication as well as for grant and fellowship applications. They talk about dissertation proposal topics and can also practice oral presentations for conferences and dissertation defenses while getting feedback from colleagues.

Bent-Goodley started the informal group three years ago as a way to address questions about the publication and grant writing process. “We provide a place where they can share ideas about research topics or have questions about career advancement,” she explains. “They also get to see unfinished work from faculty and other students so that they can learn more about the process of advancing their scholarship. The Writing Circle gives students a chance to interact with faculty outside of the classroom in a structured way.”

She adds: “The goal is to help students really recognize their own greatness and then step aside at the appropriate moment to let them show what they can do. I am proud of our collective willingness and desire to support them each step of the way. We have to be there for them.”


Finding Solutions to High Male Dropout Rates

 

“Being there for them” is the unspoken theme of Man Up, a mentoring program in the School of Communications that provides confidential counseling to male students seeking help with a broad array of personal issues.

Communications staff and faculty started the program in 2004 to stem the flow of male students who weren’t returning to school.

“There were a lot of reasons they weren’t coming back,” says Lincoln Brown Jr., an academic counselor at the school and director of the program. “Sometimes, it’s financial issues, sometimes it’s academic or it’s family obligations. Sometimes the family needed them to come back to help out financially.”

Each month, about 20 male students, mostly freshmen and sophomores, get together in the School of Communications with male faculty and staff to confidentially discuss their problems. Administrators, alumni and friends of Howard also provide networking access for the young men. What gets discussed in Man Up, stays in Man Up.

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Lincoln Brown (center) speaks with young men in the Man Up program. (Justin D. Knight)

“We create an environment where students can come together and talk with someone about whatever is on their mind,”
says Brown, who is also an ordained minister. “They can talk freely without anxiety or any sense of retribution or being judged.

The sessions can be pretty intense, with discussions centered on topics like depression, money, sexual orientation, balancing school with an active social life or just showing affection. The number one issue, Brown says, is male students’ relationship or lack of relationship with their fathers.

Brown says the school has seen an increase in the number of returning male students. He urged male faculty and staff from across the University to get involved.

“It makes a huge difference,” he says. “We’re saving lives, literally.”

Cummings says the school also has a monthly mentoring program called Sister Stars, where female students discuss an array of personal issues. She believes the need for Howard faculty and staff to serve as mentors is more important than ever. She noted there are more single parent families, and fewer children are living in extended families and cohesive, caring communities.

“They don’t have the same kind of mentors we had when we were growing up,” she says. “It’s incumbent upon us as those who have done well to give back. It is our responsibility to help young people as we were helped when we were growing up.”

For Sewell, the mentoring of Short in his journey through life continues. “I told him he had to establish himself in a career, but he didn’t like anything other than working on cars,” she says. “So, I told him to do something with that skill.”

Short followed her advice, and in May 2010 received a certificate of completion from Lincoln College of Technology. Now 21, he works full time with the Maryland State Highway Administration, while completing an internship in auto repair to become a full-fledged automotive service technician.


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